Studying for exams, making choices about what to do next, and managing friendships and relationships means there’s a lot going on whilst you’re at school or college. It’s a transitional time in life – but you’re not alone. Use these resources to help you navigate your teenage career.

Shantanu Kundu is the founder of Be Free Campaign, which aims to demolish the stigma around mental health.

His mental health struggles started while he was still at school:

It’s that point where there’s a big change in terms of life goals and the need for you to make a decision about what you want to do with your life at the age of 16 – which is a very big thing to do. There are a lot of pressures, not just from personal circumstances but also from societal circumstances, and it’s probably something that everyone’s going to be going through at that stage.

Making big decisions

  • It’s normal to feel worried, or sometimes paralysed, by the big decisions in life. So, take your time, write things down, and talk to people. 
  • If you’re thinking about which subjects to take at GCSE or A level, speak to a teacher or adult you trust. Talk to them about university choices too. Go and visit places and talk to the students there as well. 
  • When considering your future, try the UCAS Careers Quiz or apprenticeship and graduate job search to help you think about your skills and interests. Talk to friends, older peers and adults about their jobs and how they choose their career – and life – paths. 

Nadia Mendoza is founder of the Self-Esteem Team, who give talks in schools about mental health. She says you should also follow your instincts:

It’s helpful to make pros and cons lists, as well as talk things through with friends or family. However, listening to your intuition is just as valuable…. Humans use unconscious information in our brain to help guide us through life, and this is incredibly fruitful when tasked with overwhelming decisions, such as choosing colleges or universities.

Visit the Childline page on making big decisions and watch this video on managing stress at important moments.

Handling exam pressure

It’s a completely normal reaction to a big moment in your life. But as one YoungMinds activist puts it:

'Exams aren’t the be all and end all. There are so many wonderful things about you not determined by exams. There is a future without exams and you will get through.'

Managing relationships

While they can sometimes cause stress, friends and family can be a great source of strength and support during difficult times.

Nadia Mendoza says if you’re experiencing conflict:

Lead with “I” statements not “You” statements. For example, “I feel frustrated when my feelings aren’t heard” is preferable to, "You don’t care about me or my feelings"… If we dive in by putting our friend, family, or partner down, then this perpetuates conflict, and they will likely become defensive.

‘I’m also a big fan of letter-writing. When things are too hard to say, jotting them down with pen and paper allows space to gather your thoughts. Write as many drafts as you want until you feel it’s right, then hand it over to the recipient for them to read in their own time.’

Read the YoungMinds guides for young people around friendships and family relationships, as well as The Mix’s sex and relationships advice.

What to do in a mental health emergency
  • Call 999 if your own or someone else’s life is at risk, or go to your local A&E. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. 
  • Call 111. They may be able to put you in touch with a mental health nurse over the phone or arrange an emergency appointment. You can also call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 if you are in Wales.
  • Call or text the helpline numbers below, or call a local NHS urgent mental health line to get help closer to where you are (in England).

For further information go to the NHS website, or YoungMinds.

Coping with failure

Sometimes things don’t go to plan in life – whether that’s getting the exam grades you want, getting into university or a job or apprenticeship you’d set your heart on.

A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found six out of ten young people aged 18–24 have felt so stressed by pressure to succeed they have felt unable to cope. But ‘failure’ is actually a part of life – and can even help us to become more resilient. 

The Children’s Society guide to mental resilience

Nadia says: 'From the moment we’re born, we’re taught how to succeed. But never how to fail. That makes failure a bitter (and often) shameful pill to swallow… Yet if we deconstruct it, and instead of seeing failure as the enemy that highlights “weakness", we rebuild it as a tool to learn lessons from, suddenly it becomes incredibly powerful. Yes, failure can be frustrating and disappointing, but it’s also life’s greatest teacher. Ultimately, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success'.

Where to go for help

If you’re struggling, Shantanu recommends speaking to a trusted adult at school or college – that could be a teacher or class tutor but it could also be a mental health practitioner, receptionist, lunch time supervisor or the sixth form or careers lead… in other words ‘whoever you’re most comfortable with’. Your college will also have a page dedicated to mental health contacts and resources.

It can feel daunting, but through speaking out you’ll be able to access the support you need. Charity YoungMinds says that if you’re struggling because of ‘stress, pressure or a mental health condition' then you can also talk to your GP for extra support, like therapy or counselling.

Support services