Exam stress leads Mumbai boy to rare mental disorder

Friday, 21 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

A 12-year-old boy was brought to PD Hinduja hospital's neurological department last week by his parents after he failed to recognise them and his home.

An investigation showed that he was suffering from a psychological condition brought about by exam anxiety.

Dr Vasant Mundra, his psychiatrist, said, "When the neurologist examined him, he realised that the boy's amnesia was psychological, not neurological. It falls under conversion disorder and dissociative disorder where anxiety (in this case, appearing for examination) goads the brain into finding shortcut solutions."

The child and his parents are currently undergoing counselling. "These (symptoms) are not excuses, but a genuine psychiatric problem which parents, many a time, reject as an excuse. The commonest symptoms in children who are suffering from anxiety are stomach aches and fever."

Agreeing with Dr Mundra, Dr Fabian Almeida, a well-known child psychiatrist, said that while conversion disorder is common, it is not picked up. "In conversion disorder, anxiety is converted into bodily complaints. The child finds it easier to complaint about symptoms than confront his parents about his stress. Whether the child is faking the symptoms or they are psychological can be found out by a psychiatrist in counselling," said Almeida.

Doctors suggest that parents play a crucial role in helping their children face the disorder. "It is very important for parents to have two-way communication. Instead of being dictators, they should be explanatory and informative in tone," said Dr Harish Shetty, a senior psychiatrist at Dr LH Hiranandani hospital.

Dr Shetty also said that hugging the child before and after exams would have a positive effect. He also cautioned parents against conducting 'postmortems' of the child's academic performance.

Doctors also suggest playing down the significance of exams to put the child at ease. "Devaluing the exam helps. One should not stress on it being the key to one's career and future. That is a common mistake made by parents," said Dr Mundra, adding that it is important for children to get enough sleep so that they don't blank out in the exam.

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