Living in a Pandemic: What are the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of the youth?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Wireko Andrew Awuah, a Ghanaian medical student of Sumy State University, Ukraine and Ms. Pavi Brar, currently a MSc Global Health and Social Justice student at King’s College London. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Over the past year, each and every one of us has been in some way affected by the corona-virus pandemic that has engulfed every corner of the globe. As new variants of the virus continue to emerge, scientists and researchers face a continuous battle to overcome what has been described as a “global health crisis unlike any”.  As communities continue to pull-together and survive through lockdowns, physical social distancing measures, and wearing of masks, there remains an invisible battle that many face alone. The pandemic has been a daunting time for everyone, but even more so for young people facing mental health challenges as result of the fear and anxiety this ‘new normal’ brings.

A survey conducted by Young Minds in Summer 2020 found that 80% of young people agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. Increased anxiety and fear has been caused by the unknown nature of the virus and overall pandemic situation. In addition to the loss of friends and loved ones, many have experienced a loss of motivation caused by sudden closures of schools and workplaces, while some have also been faced with loss of support and coping mechanisms previously provided by friends and family through regular physical meetings. 87% of young people reported feeling lonely or isolated during lockdown periods.

Closure of schools, colleges, and universities further exacerbated feelings of stress and anxiety. While the pandemic was most definitely going to impact young people’s social lives, it also held the power to impact their careers in the long term. Being unable to take important exams such as GCSEs and A-Levels has had a knock-on effect on University admissions and entry into the job market. Although this generation may be able to recover from the more social impacts of the pandemic (eg. loneliness and isolation), many young people wonder whether the impacts of the pandemic on their work and careers may last much longer, if not their whole lifetime 

The COVID-19 Pandemic’s impact on young people’s mental health is not simply limited to feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression. Referrals of urgent cases of eating disorders among the youth in England during 2020 has doubled. Isolation, loneliness, and financial adversities caused by the pandemic also likely to increase the risk of self-harm and substance abuse amongst this age group.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing situation, and despite progress with vaccination programmes, it is unlikely that the world returns to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ anytime soon. It is imperative that we are aware of this lesser known battle faced by many young people and ensure adequate measures are in place to help and support them. This generation of young people have proven to be strong and resilient, embracing all the challenges they have faced over the past year. We must protect and nurture their mental health, allowing them the opportunity to flourish and be the hope of our future. 

References

Guterres, A., 2020. “This is, above all, a human crisis that calls for solidarity” | United Nations. [online] United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/above-all-human-crisis-calls-solidarity

YoungMinds, 2020. Survey 2: Summer 2020. Coronavirus: Impact on young people with mental health needs. [online] London: YoungMinds. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/media/3904/coronavirus-report-summer-2020-final.pdf

Ford, T., John, A. and Gunnell, D., 2021. Mental health of children and young people during pandemic. BMJ, p.n614. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/372/bmj.n614.full.pdf

About the author

Wireko Andrew Awuah is a Ghanaian medical student of Sumy State University, Ukraine.  He serves as an Editorial Board Member of the Harvard Public Health Review, and 4 other reputable journals in the UK, Canada and India.  Andrew is a proud winner of best International Medical Student Award 2020, Sumy State University.

Pavi Brar is currently a MSc Global Health and Social Justice student at King’s College London. She is currently interested in researching the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on young people, and lessons to be learnt in building forward better.

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