Matric students need mental health support to handle exam stress, Sadag says

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Umamah Bakharia

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The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) is urging students and their families to prioritise their mental well-being as they grapple with the stress of sitting for their high school-ending examinations.

This comes after a survey of young people and children by the South African chapter of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) found that more than two-thirds of respondents felt they needed mental health support over the past year.

Matric students are currently writing their National Senior Certificate exams which commenced on 30 October and will run until 6 December. Results for the exams, which will help determine whether students can enrol into tertiary institutions, are expected to be released in early January.

“It’s important that students take care of their mental health during this time because it can have long-term effects — take breaks and breathe,” Sadag spokesperson Vanishaa Gordhan told the Mail & Guardian.

External factors like the influence of loved ones or worries about future prospects can affect how students approach the final examinations. Gordhan said.

“External factors play a big role — it is important for the learner to feel that he has support from those around him or her, for them to follow a schedule that can ease their timeframe and to make sure they get enough rest during this time,” she said.

A matric student who declined to be named told the M&G he felt overwhelmed with the pressure from his family.

“I am aware that this is very important for me and I do know that I am trying my best, but it feels like a show where everyone is just waiting for the results and it is kind of just all on me to bring back a positive or negative outcome,” he said.

Another student admitted to being anxious but said she made an effort to be present in other moments and give her mind a rest.

“I have been treating it like every other exam that I have written to this point to make sure that I don’t overwhelm myself and then spiral which will just take my mental health down a hill,” she said.

Last week, Unicef South Africa released its latest U-Report poll which found that 73% of children and youth had required mental health support over the past year and more than 38% actively sought help for mental health challenges.

“The feedback from youth is clear in that they are aware of their need for mental health support,” Unicef representative Christine Muhigana said.

“Encouragingly an increasing number of children and young people are engaging with their friends on mental well-being. We must ensure that national policy and community-based mental health support services put youth at the centre.”

Unicef urged the South African government to increase its investment in mental health and psychosocial support services, integrated within the primary health care and child protection systems, including community services and structures.

In commemoration of mental health month in October, the Gauteng health department opened the first-of-its-kind Mental Health Museum in Gauteng — located at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Tshwane — to raise awareness of mental health and illness.

“Beyond its educational role, the museum serves as a symbol of hope. For those who may have felt isolated or marginalised in their struggle with mental health, it offers a reminder that they are not alone, that their experiences are part of a broader wall-hanging of humanity,” Gauteng member of the executive council for health and wellness Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko said.

Meanwhile, Sadag has urged students who are feeling overwhelmed during the exams to call its helpline 0800 567 567.

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