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From Pressure to Resilience: SADAG tackles Matric Exam Stress and Suicide Prevention

There have been many tragic, and concerning, reports of teen suicides and attempted teen suicides over the last few months, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is turning the spotlight on Matric Learners as their final exams are underway. We’ve seen an increase in schools, parents and Matric Learners themselves reaching out for help, and thus believe it is critical to not only create more awareness in the media, but also to start important conversations on the topic. The normalisation of these experiences would hopefully give any at-risk teen the encouragement to reach out, before it may be too late.

SADAG’s Schools Outreach Coordinator, Roshni Parbhoo-Seetha says, “It’s really important to change how we talk about final exams for teenagers. Right now, there’s an enormous amount of pressure placed on the results of these exams, and it can make teens feel like their whole life depends on them. While it is natural for Learners to experience some form of Anxiety or Stress around exam time, the weight of the culmination of 12 years of school leading to one final examination can take a serious toll on a student. There is an increased amount of expectation from parents, teachers, schools, family and friends that can really exacerbate the “typical” exam stresses to harmful levels. We want our Matrics to understand that while these exams are certainly important, they are not more important than their Mental Health or their life, and the results do not set their fate in stone.”

SADAG receives calls throughout the year from Matric Learners who are stressed out, depressed and overwhelmed by the pressures they face. The increased expectations of our Learners of today begin long before that final stretch of exams, with rising levels of unemployment, increased emphasis on accessing tertiary education and a global economic fallout contribute to high levels of anxiety. Aside from these academic pressures, our youth also deal with other difficulties which are prolific in our country, such as family discord, substance abuse, physical, sexual and emotional abuse at home, trauma, bullying, bereavement and grief. This adds enormous additional weight to exam results, which can be seen as a potential escape from a traumatic environment.

Chris Kemp, a Clinical Psychologist says, “Supporting Matric Learners during their exams is not just about passing tests or getting the best results; it’s about passing on the message that their well-being matters – that they are more important than a mark on a piece of paper. That regardless of the outcome of their exams, they are loved and accepted unconditionally. That we can emphasise, without detracting from the final exams’ importance, that their final results do not have to dictate the rest of their lives. Learners have access to re-marks, supplementary exams, bridging courses or even alternative means of schooling and education. We as parents, teachers, family and loved ones need to create an environment in which our youth feel safe to talk about their emotional experiences, to be mindful of their Mental Health and keep an eye out for warning signs. By doing so, we help them succeed beyond the exams.”

Parents, caregivers and guardians have a significant role in all of this. For many youth, the way they feel their family feels about them is of critical importance. We want family to be mindful of what they’re communicating – seemingly encouraging words such as “I know you’re going to do well, you’re so smart” can unintentionally create a heavy weight of expectation. Try and start conversations around your child’s emotional experience or stress level, rather than their study schedule or readiness for the exam – shift the focus away from results and back to experience. Do not underestimate the importance of your capacity for understanding in your child’s life – your empathy is irreplaceable.

As a way to provide support, help and a safe space for Matric Learners to connect, learn how to manage Stress, and talk about the pressures and issues they are navigating during this stressful period, SADAG will be launching a FREE online Matric Exams Support Group open to all Matric Learners around the country. The FREE online Support Group will run every Sunday and Wednesday at 5pm – 6pm, and the first meeting starts on Sunday the 12th November 2023 at 5pm. To join the free Matric Exams Support Group, click here to register https://bit.ly/MatricExamSG

SADAG will also be hosting weekly LIVE sessions on Matric exams discussing coping skills, how to manage the stress and pressure, as well as answer questions LIVE from the audience. These will be on Tik Tok every Tuesday at 6pm and Instagram every Thursday at 6pm. To join these sessions, follow SADAG on Instagram @sadag_official and Tik Tok @sadag_official

For any Matric learner who feels Stressed, Overwhelmed, Depressed or is thinking about harming themselves or suicide, please reach out to a SADAG Counsellor on the Suicide Toll-free Helpline 0800 567 567 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), or sms 31393 and a counsellor will call you back. You can also chat with us online via WhatsApp 087 163 2030 (7 days a week, 8am-5pm). The most important thing to remember is that there is always help available. For more info on coping tips, help and resources for Learners, parents, teacher and family, go to www.sadag.org.

SADAG’s message to Matric Learners during this time – You are not alone, there is always **help, and hope! It may sometimes feel like you have no one to talk to, but you do, you can always reach out to SADAG.

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