Somehow “your exams have been cancelled!” doesn’t bring the same degree of relief as it did throughout my time at school. Like much else, the coronavirus has plagued the academic experience for countless people around the world as schools and universities close, graduations are held online and rites of passages like proms are postponed. It feels a bit like spending hours building an intricate sandcastle you are proud of and having it swept away before anyone can see it.
Just like every other ‘exam-season,’ the mental health of students is precarious with a healthy dose of panic, anxiety and fear in the air. Only for the opposite reason this time around.
Final examinations, that mark the end of an educational journey, are being cancelled or pushed back across schools and universities. “I guess my exams are postponed,” Mugdha Redkar, a first year masters student from India, told Re:Set. “They were supposed to be over by this time but there’s been no proper communication from our college.”
For Redkar, who is studying industrial psychology, feelings of anxiousness and fear are peaking. “No proper information means I’m just left hanging. I felt guilty for both not studying and helping around the house.”
Not knowing what the future holds is causing me distress and making me uneasy. As a high school student, it’s a strange feeling to know I’ll graduate without having done my exams. I’m forced to miss both the joyful and the stressful parts and I’m left in my bedroom with only the doubtful parts for company. My fantasies of anxiety leaving my body once I’m done with high school are crushed.
With little control over my final grade, I have been reduced to panic-induced sessions of obsessively re-reading my internals in hopes of them magically improving by sheer willpower. I’m equal parts fretful and resigned, which I think has become the mental state of many students in the world right now.
As a masters student, the impending economic recession is frightening Redkar. “I’m supposed to be part of the workforce next year and the idea of being unemployed or underpaid is scary,” she said. Not having the same opportunities as she did before the pandemic is agitating her. Fear over not obtaining an internship or a job is widespread among Redkar’s classmates. “Practical experience is precious and I am concerned about my internship.” The build-up of anxiety because of uncertainty in future prospects is causing all of them a lot of emotional strain.
Getting professional help shouldn’t be looked down upon and instead be made the norm for students and adults alike.
For the fortunate students with access to mental health resources, there are free sessions available. “Our teachers understand our anxiety and our fear,” Rekar told Re:Set. Her college has provided students with a list of therapists they can contact if they need support. Tackling mental health challenges, be it as ‘simple’ as anxiety, during a pandemic particularly is difficult and strenuous. Getting professional help shouldn’t be looked down upon and instead be made the norm for students and adults alike.
Similarly, some school students are lucky to receive mental health help from their institutions. It’s a privilege to have educators that are understanding of students’ anxiety and distress at this time. I have always had my school counselors ready to listen and comfort me when I’m troubled and yet I know that innumerable students don’t have that kind of help. Navigating high school was stressful enough, so to not have that source of comfort and guidance seems like a huge misstep at this time.
Most importantly, disregarding a student’s mental well-being at such a tumultuous stage is irresponsible in my view. Educators checking up on their students, whether they are adjusting to online learning or in the awkward stage between a cancelled exam and graduation, will not be futile. They are just as anxious as everyone else, maybe even more so because nothing seems stable in their lives.