Rise in anxiety complaints on offline exams, say child psychiatrists

Published on Feb 26, 2022 11:22 PM IST

According to his treating psychiatrist, Dr Avinash Desousa, the boy, who was appearing for an English paper, got a panic attack on seeing children around him

City psychiatrists said the fear of offline exams and being unable to finish the paper on time is leading to panic attacks in an increasing number of students (HT File)
City psychiatrists said the fear of offline exams and being unable to finish the paper on time is leading to panic attacks in an increasing number of students (HT File)
BySomita Pal

Mumbai: Over the last two-and-a-half weeks, a 15-year-old Andheri resident has been put on anti-anxiety pills and is undergoing counselling after he experienced panic attacks while appearing for his first offline exam - class 10 preliminary - in January after a gap of two years.

According to his treating psychiatrist, Dr Avinash Desousa, the boy, who was appearing for an English paper, got a panic attack on seeing children around him.

“He couldn’t finish the three-hour paper. He told me at least 12-14 children in his class also couldn’t complete the paper. Post prelims, he became anxious about how he will fare in the upcoming boards. He is also worried about exams being pushed further due to the uncertainty related to Covid,” said Dr Desousa, who is also the president of Bombay Psychiatric Society (BPS).

City psychiatrists said the fear of offline exams and being unable to finish the paper on time is leading to panic attacks in an increasing number of students.

“In the last two years, children have gotten used to online examinations. They are used to sitting in a room not surrounded by other students. This time, when the offline preliminary exams were held, we started seeing high anxiety levels in children,” said Dr Desousa, who has been seeing around five to six cases a week.

While most visiting his clinic are class 10 students, other children are facing anxiety issues with offline exams and fear of not being able to write the entire exam paper.

Dr Vasant Mundra, a child psychiatrist from PD Hinduja Hospital said his department saw mixed feelings related to offline exams in children.

“There is a certain amount of joy in being able to meet friends and move out of the house. However, there are some who are being disabled with anxiety. These children are not able to sleep, they are frightened of getting up, they do not want to go to school. We often have to treat such children. If the disability is intense, just counselling won’t work, and we have to put them on treatment,” he said.

Dr Desousa said nearly 30% of these children are required to be put on anti-anxiety pills.

Priya Dey, a Santacruz-based psychologist said that while board exams have always led to anxiety in children and parents, it is the transition from online to offline exams in the pandemic that has added to the pressure.

“All changes have happened in the last three months. The transition from online exams to offline has added to the already existing performance pressure of writing a board exam. So far, online exams were made manoeuvrable and everyone knew that there was also some laxity in the assessment of answer sheets was. Things will change with offline exams,” she said.

Mentioning a recent case where a child locked himself in the room and refused to come out as he didn’t want to appear for other papers, Pragya Lodha, a Vile Parle-based psychologist, said that parents need to be watchful for certain red flags related to exam anxiety.

“Sudden outburst of crying spells, low mood and motivation, constant engagement with a smartphone or on social media shouldn’t be taken lightly. Many times, exam anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms like headache, body ache, running high fever, vomiting or nausea. Sudden change in eating and sleeping habits and saying s/he doesn’t want to appear for exams should be treated as red flags to exam anxiety,” she said.

Educational institutes were closed in March 2020 after the outbreak of Covid. As a result, teaching, learning and examinations have been conducted online for the majority part of the two years. Since October 2020, schools resumed in phases for different classes before closing again due to the second wave.

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