Tips and support for students tackling the HSC in lockdown

High Street Youth Health Service counsellors Vanessa Smith, Annette Forde and Cassandra Scott.

Finishing high school can be stressful at the best of times, but for thousands of teenagers across Sydney the added anxiety and uncertainty of the current COVID-19 outbreak is adding to the difficulty.

“Obviously the HSC on its own is stressful enough without a worldwide pandemic on top,” said Noah Vedamonickam, a Year 12 student at Toongabbie Christian College.

Toongabbie Christian College student Noah Vedamonickam

“The uncertainty of not knowing how and when we can go back to school has definitely taken its toll. Knowing we probably won’t be at school for the next few weeks means less help from teachers, which is hard when everyone has questions leading up to trials.”

Noah said he finds sticking to a routine of study, music breaks and exercise helpful – a perspective that is backed up by Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Youth Health counsellor Cassandra Scott.

Cassandra works for High Street Youth Health Service in Parramatta, which also has a sister service with the Western Area Adolescent Team at Mount Druitt.

The services provide a safe place for young people aged 12-24 to get advice, information, counselling and links to other services.

With lockdown and home schooling a reality until at least the end of the July, Cassandra offered the following tips for teenagers to look after their mental health.

Be kind to yourself

“A lot of young people are worried about how disrupted schooling will impact their marks and future job prospects and opportunities after school,” Cassandra said.

“High standards and perfectionism feed into stress and anxiety.

“This is an adverse situation and it’s normal to be affected. Productivity and motivation will drop in difficult circumstances. Instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what you would say to a friend in this situation. Then practice saying that to yourself.”

Make a routine

“If you’re struggling with motivation then routine can help you get going each day,” Cassandra said.

“Remember to include breaks, and don’t set yourself unrealistic goals. Break your assessments down into achievable tasks for one day.”

Look after your body and brain

“It’s important to get a good night’s sleep, so try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day,” Cassandra said.

“Take regular breaks to get outside and get moving, even if it’s just stretching. Give your eyes a rest from the screen. Getting sunshine and natural light in the day will help you sleep better at night too.”

Progressive muscle relaxation can also help if you’re having difficulty sleeping.

Try mindfulness

To help manage anxiety and intrusive thoughts, Cassandra recommends mindfulness – a technique for focusing on the moment, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without letting them take over.

Check out these apps as an easy starting point for mindfulness:

Reach out and connect

“When things feel overwhelming the best thing to do is reach out,” Cassandra said.

“It doesn’t have to be a counsellor – just talking to a friend or trusted family member can help you know you’re not alone.”

If you need someone else to talk to, you can call the Kids Helpline anytime on 1800 55 1800.

Phone counselling and web chat is available 24/7, in addition to other support for teens aged 13-17 and young adults aged 18-25.

More support

  • Reach Out is an online mental health service for young people and parents
  • headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing early intervention mental health services to people aged 12-25
  • QLife provides anonymous LGBT+ peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships
  • School-Link is a free telephone consultation service which provides support to education staff and health clinicians who work with students