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A-levels: More support needed for young people experiencing exam stress

There were 1,127 calls to Childline across Britain and Northern Ireland about exams in 2015/16

More support is needed for young people experiencing exam stress, a mental health charity has urged.

Aware made the call following a report from Childline which revealed the number of young people receiving counselling about A-level and GCSE results rose by 20 per cent this year.

There were 1,127 calls to Childline across Britain and Northern Ireland about exams in 2015/16 with girls five times more likely to be phoning than boys.

Callers said they feared disappointing their parents while others spoke about general stress about academic achievements.

The NSPCC said stress about exam results could affect young people's ability to sleep, trigger anxiety attacks, depression, and eating disorders.

In some cases it can also lead to self-harm and suicidal feelings, or make pre-existing mental health conditions worse.

Aware chief executive Siobhan Doherty said the charity often met and heard from young people who spoke openly about the pressure of exams and what was expected from them.

"These pressures are at times so significant that it can lead to depression and suicide. Our young people are calling out for support and often talk about not knowing where to go, or who to tell because of the pressure they are feeling to succeed and what they think is expected from them," Ms Doherty said.

"Suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 in the UK with Northern Ireland having the highest rates of suicide in the UK. It is important that we look out for our young people, particularly at this time of year when they are clearly under a great deal of pressure and stress as they await their exam results.

"Being aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and talking to young people about mental illness is very important in ensuring a safe environment for them to open up if they are struggling."

Aware offers a Mood Matters Young People programme to 14-18 year olds in post-primary schools across Northern Ireland. This provides them with the knowledge and skills to maintain good mental health and build resilience in order to better deal with problems and challenges.

Neil Anderson, head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said awaiting exam results could cause lots of stress and anxiety for young people.

"These figures show that the pressure to perform well in exams is being felt by young people across the country and this can be difficult for them to handle," he said.

"We hear from lots of young people each year who are really worried about their results and what the future may hold. If they want to talk Childline is always here to listen."

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