From education to employment

Exam stress and student mental health

Dr Derek Richards, Director of Clinical Research & Innovation at SilverCloud Health

Receiving A-levels or leaving certificate results can be a really exciting and pivotal time for a young person. It is such a wonderful achievement for a person to reach this point in life where the future holds many different and varied possibilities, however this requires good decision making skills and resilience to achieve goals. For some young people the anxiety and stress of finding out A-level or leaving certificate exams results can have a negative impact, especially if the outcomes are not what was wished for and therefore brings uncertainty about what the future holds. Facing clearing, re-sits or potentially considering an alternative path, can take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing.

For those that are accepted to a university, the anticipation of starting this new journey can also be stressful. Moving away from home and family, students can often find themselves far from people they would have normally relied on for support. Demands for academic achievement are coupled with demands for social integration, forming new social groups and activities, plus building relationships with house mates, friends and family.

The Minding Our Future report states that almost 60,000 students disclosed a mental health condition last year, although many more are expected to have undisclosed or undiagnosed mental health conditions. It’s particularly important that freshers with prior mental health conditions feel comfortable talking to university support staff, local GPs or tutors to get the support they need when starting their new course. By law people cannot be discriminated against due to mental health issues, therefore reaching out and asking for support at any time during the journey through university / college, apprenticeship, or starting in the workplace should always be beneficial. There are many means of supports available along the journey and I would always encourage people to ask for help when they need it. Remember, for the most part, the experiences people may be having are absolutely normal and can be managed with the right skills and supports.

I have been working for almost 20 years in the development and implementation of online mental health therapies – with a large portion of my initial work on SilverCloud Health based around students at the University of Dublin, Trinity College. The programme’s evidence-based content is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based and is conducted online – helping students to manage day to day stresses and anxieties, as well as more distressing feeling. CBT is a type of psychological therapy which has been found to be very effective for treating common mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. CBT is based on the concepts that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviours are all connected, and that unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can trap you in a vicious cycle leading to emotional challenges.

Online therapies, such as SilverCloud Health, provides mental health solutions for universities, as well as numerous organisations, giving counsellors the opportunity to engage with 6 times more students than in a face-to-face environment.

Dr Derek Richards, Director of Clinical Research & Innovation at SilverCloud Health

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