Society's focus on academic ranking is increasing anxiety in teenagers and making them more stressed about Year 12 exams, the head of one of WA's leading public schools has warned.
Shenton College principal Michael Morgan said even though stress had always been a problem for senior school students, they had become "extremely hyper-anxious" in recent years.
He believed the increased emphasis placed on academic comparisons, driven by global, national and State-based testing, was putting students under more pressure.
"We are seeing an inordinate rise in mental health issues across Australia around children's perception of themselves and their anxiety around academic performance," he said.
"We only need to see a few rather tragic responses to those anxieties and I think we'll start to pay more attention."
Year 12s start their final WA Certificate of Education written exams today.
Mr Morgan said much of the pressure felt by students was driven by good intentions.
"Parents, schools and society want to help a child to achieve and aspire towards goals," he said.
"But some of those aspirations are actually put on by society and schools, not by the individual."
"There are kids with such high expectations and pressures on them that we need to rethink what it is around a balanced childhood and a learning curriculum.
"We've got to stop this myth that a 99 Australian Tertiary Admission Rank will determine whether you're smart or not."
Mr Morgan said schools needed to help students cope with the pressure of exam performance from Year 8, instead of leaving it to their final year.
Symptoms of anxiety included students being tired, disengaged from learning or telling counsellors they were worried about their ATAR.
He said Shenton had introduced strategies in the past two years to boost students' mental health under a program called "much more than marks - learning for life".
The college was 16th in the list of top 50 schools produced last year by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority based on Year 12 results.
Curtin University counsellor and clinical psychologist Paul Przytula, who also sees high school students in his private practice, said he had noticed an increase in students concerned about succeeding academically.
Many said they were under pressure from teachers and parents.
He agreed schools could do more to teach students coping strategies.