Me, my school and my mental health
Guest blogger Becky talks about how exam pressure affected her mental health, and the steps she took to make school life easier.
School: seen as a place for learning, maturing, making friends and growing. But for someone with depression and anxiety, school can be far from these things. For a lot of us (often more than you initially realise), school can be the most mentally challenging time of our lives. Years 10, 11 and year one of college felt almost impossible for me.
A bit about me...
Through my school years, I had been put in top sets and given extra work. I was considered a ‘high achiever’ which sounds great… right? But this meant that there was so much pressure for me to do well in all my exams and keep improving, it really was bitter sweet. When I was approaching GCSE’s, the expectation that I would go to university began. Uni is not for everyone and much to my teacher’s dismay, it has never been for me! I was interested in going into work after college as I learn better in a hands-on environment – and that’s okay; everyone learns in their own unique way. Constant pushing from school to be a ‘star’ student was only making me unhappy, as the goals they were setting me felt completely unreasonable and unachievable to me.
Unfortunately, at the end of year 9 and as I went into year 10, my low mood began to escalate which led me to start seeing the school therapist. My school were eager to help which was positive. However, a big problem I found with school counselling was that I had to leave lessons to attend. This not only set me behind with work – causing me more stress in order to catch up - but it also would provoke questions. My peers would notice when I left mid-lesson and ask ‘Where are you going?’ This was difficult as I felt I couldn’t talk to many people about the way I was feeling; I felt like I was constantly having to hide this part of me from them.
As the year group were now knuckling down with preparing for GCSEs, it was becoming more and more difficult to stay focused, motivated and on-track. My mind was always elsewhere and exams were creeping up on me. Mock exam after mock exam and one revision guide to the next – it was full on! I felt like teachers didn’t understand how much the pressure of school can affect not only our mental health but also the quality of work we produce. Often, my fatigue and sadness would completely inhibit my ability to concentrate, only making me more anxious. It felt like a vicious circle!
How we made school life easier
My mum and I went into the school to discuss how best to help me.
- I had a separate room to do my exams in. This meant the anxieties about walking into the exam hall with 200 students were reduced significantly, putting my mind at ease.
- After finding the school counselling was not effective, I managed to see a CAMHS therapist outside of school and she helped me with strategies to stay calm. “Deep breaths Becky,” I would think to myself as I got nervous.
- I learnt to tackle revision in manageable chunks and treat myself to rewards when I completed a section. Revision is tiring as it is, without battling mental health, so celebrate even the smallest of victories because you deserve the credit!
To anyone else who is struggling with schoolwork: remember exams are important, but your mental health comes first.