With the much-dreaded Board examinations less than a month away, jittery students and anxious parents have already started spending sleepless nights. A pre-exam help line, "Disha", is making efforts to help them cope with this pressure. Now in its ninth year, "Disha" became functional this year on February 1 and will be available till March 2. Students and parents can ring up 65978181 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for free and confidential counselling services. Trained persons will help the distressed students through telephonic and face-to-face counselling. The counsellors will work under the supervision of the Institute of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences director Deepak Gupta and other psychologists.

An initiative of "Snehi", a non-profit, voluntary organisation focusing on the mental health needs of the community, the help line was launched in 1999 to counsel the distressed students before they appear for their Board exams. "Disha" attended 1,345 calls last year. Of these, 1,085 callers -- most of them Classes X and XII students -- were psychologically distressed and emotionally disturbed. More than 240 parents and relatives of these students were counselled and helped, claims "Snehi" director Abdul Mabood.

"Examination is a difficult time for students. The growing unhealthy comparisons and competition have mounted enormous pressure on them owing to which they experience lack of concentration, lack of retention, loss of appetite and lack of confidence," says Mr. Mabood. "We have experienced in the past eight years that students' psychological problems due to stress during pre-exam periods are not only detrimental for their future study and career but also for their physical and mental health," he adds. -- Parul Sharma

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