This year has certainly been a tough one for people across the world. However, it was made much more stressful for the UK this month. Not only has the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic set the UK economy to enter the deepest recession ever recorded of any G7 nation, but 40 per cent of A-level students had their grades downgraded significantly based on an algorithm that ruined millions of young adults’ plans with exams not being able to take place.
Fortunately, the UK Government announced a U-turn, but the damage was done. There has been tremendous stress and anxiety in the meantime, with millions of students initially being rejected from university and many future plans ruined. With career prospects dampened by the economic landscape and a controversial policy that earned good students low and unfair grades, it has been a stressful and upsetting time for millions.
As well as being incredibly rewarding and empowering, education can be incredibly tough. With so much pressure to perform well enough to land a place at university or a promising career, young adults already experience a great deal of stress when it comes to GCSEs and A-levels—particularly with A-levels, dubbed the ‘gold standard’ of English education.
“People like me aren’t really being talked about”
Mental health in exam students is an extremely serious issue, with reports from 2017 finding that 43% of the 145 suicides among those under the age of 20 from 2014-15 were experiencing academic pressures. Further to this, 32%—one in three—committed suicide before and during exam season as well as the period building up to results day.
Clara, from Barnet in London, has argued that the side effects of anxiety and depression haven’t been recognised enough in the context of the situation. Many students who had existing mental health issues have been incredibly disadvantaged through the algorithm because, although they may struggle day-to-day in school, exams are their chance to demonstrate their knowledge and achieve.
Clara commented: “When I heard about this teacher-predicted grade situation I was immediately concerned for people like me who suffer with mental health.
“I have severe OCD, depression, and anxiety and it affects my performance in school, but generally I can do pretty well in the final exams when it really matters.
“People like me aren’t really being talked about or really considered, and it feels frustrating and disappointing.”
Stress relief searches
We looked at Google Trend data, which analyses the popularity of top search queries online, to find out what people were searching for from the period 12th August to 19th August, with A-level results day being on the 13th August. This period was when many A-level students received marked down grades significantly lower than what they expected.
According to Google Trends, searches for ‘stress relief balls’ had increased by 800%, ‘what is crippling anxiety’ increased by 800%, ‘how to cope with rejection’ by 250%, ‘how to cope with anxiety attacks’ by 190%, ‘can stress cause mouth ulcers’ by 150%, and ‘therapy for anxiety’ by 60%.
It isn’t surprising that searches for these terms skyrocketed, with stress balls relieving tension through simple and repetitive movements. Ever wondered why children are obsessed with slime and sticky toys that feel funny? Stress expert David Posen says that stress can be channelled towards a physical object, leaving you less tense from squeezing and releasing, which may explain why young adults are perhaps turning towards sensory forms of stress relief to soothe their worries, particularly with something so out of their control.
Furthermore, research has also found that 91% of candidates were affected by oral manifestations due to extreme stress during exams.
What to do when your confidence and energy has dropped
Childline reported an increase in calls from students concerned about their results. Common concerns during counselling sessions include:
If you’re one of the A-level students who has suffered and feel exhausted, knocked back, and unsure of yourself, it’s important that you remember your grades do not define you. For those who are going further afield to study, the notion of moving away from home to a new city can be daunting, but if you struggle or are feeling negative, then please seek help. You can even book an online doctor appointment, which may be appealing to students in new cities or for those who prefer to remain at home.