“Every year, during January to March, we receive many children coming to us due to examination stress. Competitive examinations are a great source of stress for these children, as there are nearly 2 lakh aspirants and only 7,000 seats available. This places a lot of stress on the children,” said Dr Poongodi Bala, behavioural counsellor and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Intense stress due to exam preparations and lack of socialisation causes a lot of stress in the children. According to Dr Poongodi, the pandemic has added another layer of stress on the children, due to the lack of stress-busters or change in scenery owing to shutdown restrictions.
“Children will be in close contact with their parents. Their social media and technology use will be monitored, and being teenagers, they will resent this. If they had the ability to go to coaching classes or to school, they would be with their peers, and that would act as a stress-buster for them,” she said.
Much of the stress on the aspirants comes from parental and social pressure, said V Dhanvanth, who wrote the NEET Exam in Chennai on Sunday. “Right after the examination, my neighbour contacted my mother five times, asking how I did and how the exam was for me. This social pressure affects parents, who put that expectation on their children. This pressure keeps increasing, until the child snaps,” he said.
Irrespective of the shutdown, Dhanvanth explained that NEET aspirants do not have much of a social life owing to their strict studying schedules. When the stress became too much for him, he would call a close childhood friend and vent every night, which helped him get through the year of stringent preparation.
“Many children from lower economic backgrounds feel as though this is their ticket to a better life. Even one mark might put them back several places, and they feel as though they sacrifice everything for the exam. Therefore, the prospect of failure – across economic strata – can be a fearful prospect for the children, who feel that taking their life might be the only way out,” said Dr Poongodi.
However, these feelings of isolation and this fear is a result of the pressure of these expectations, said Dhanvanth. “Parents need to remind their kids that there are alternatives, and that failure is not the final option. If they cannot be a doctor, there are alternatives. ‘We can get through anything as a family’ – this is a statement more parents need to tell their kids as they prepare for this exam,” he said.
(If you are feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal, contact the following resources: Sneha Suicide Prevention helpline – 044 -2464000 (24 hours); State suicide prevention helpline – 104 (24 hours); iCall Pychosocial helpline – 022-25521111)