The end of the year is the time to start unwinding and letting the stress and hard work of the year leave your mind and body. A well-deserved break is on the cards, as is a fun and relaxing time with family and friends. One would think this is the case for everyone, but it definitely is not. School leavers and students at all levels are filled with fear, stress and anxiety, as it is the season of grades and exam results. Grades that often determine their futures and careers and even their shot at happiness, or so we are all made to believe.
In Namibia, we emphasise the importance of education and the need to perform well academically. For many it is the only chance they have of getting a bursary, getting into their tertiary education institution of choice, scholarship or positioning themselves for a good job, career and financial security. This brings enormous pressure on pupils and students. Pressure that they put on themselves, pressure which their parents, family and school puts on them as well and pressure from society. Each new Namibian generation is told that they are the future and must build and contribute to creating a ‘knowledge-based’ society. That’s a big ask.
However, this pressure causing stress and anxiety is not just a Namibian problem. Research from the UK’s charity Childline shows that counsellors delivered 11,700 sessions to children and teenagers struggling with mental health issues in 2015-6. That number rose to 21,300 in 2017-18, almost doubling within a year.
As CEO, and a clinical psychologist at Bel Esprit, a facility that offers mental health care in all its forms, these numbers shock, but don’t surprise me. I see a great deal of issues amongst youngsters, students and school leavers. Whether it is depression, anxiety or a myriad of physical ailments caused by stress and pressure, it is disheartening to see. This is one of the reasons why we have teamed up with Southern Business School Namibia and Omulunga Radio and Fresh FM, to broach this very sensitive topic of mental health and to get people talking. Radio remains the most broadly accessed medium of communication. This makes it the ideal medium to reach people at all levels of society.
We are confronted way too often with young people taking their own lives, seeking solace and comfort in drugs or alcohol because of exam results. When exam results do not quite turn out how the students, school leavers or parents anticipated. The world seems to fall apart and can become an incredibly lonely and dark place for many. Without the proper support network through the schools, friends and families, young adults and school kids are left to flounder and have no outlet for their disappointment, questions and feelings of anxiety.
Southern Business School Namibia realised this is a real issue and together with us at Bel Esprit want to raise awareness on this issue. At Bel Esprit we are teaching Grade 12 school leavers and students, that grades and exam results are important, however your mental health and as a direct result your physical well-being is infinitely more important.
Through education, raising awareness and simply allowing people to talk about their feelings, the pressure they feel and giving them tools and techniques that will empower them to deal with disappointment and unfulfilled or deferred goals that might result from academic results. This is not only true for the students themselves, but there’s a need to educate friends and family who may be piling on disproportionate pressure and expectations. There are some tools and techniques that can be used to educate and raise awareness, such as;
Take a moment to wallow. Find a word for how you feel, such as disappointed, resentful, or afraid. Let the waves of disappointment wash over you, speak out loud (if only to yourself), and honor your emotions.
Do a reality check—is it really that bad? After feeling the first blows of disappointment, step back and assess. Look objectively at your problems to help separate fact from fiction and reduce negative self-talk.
Don’t stew in negativity. Turn the emotional tables on disappointment and always look for ways to grow from it. Turn negative emotions into a positive emotion like determination. Put things in perspective. In any disappointment, we need to find something useful that we can build on, or that at least lets us see even the smallest positive. Limit others from dumping their disappointments. People who put a negative spin on everything often spew the negativity on the people around them, she says. Sometimes you have to limit contacts and when exposed, let negative news go in one ear and out the other. Especially when trying to process your own disappointments.
These are just a few pointers, going online or speaking to a professional will give even more methods and techniques on how to deal with this pressure. The most important take-away is to remember to be supportive and realise that these kids have put their heart and soul into their work and that exam results are but a mere snapshot, it doesn’t define them. Be there for them and be strong together and there’s always someone to reach out to.
*This article is by the Southern Business School Namibia.