Too Young to Feel Hopeless – Mental Health of the Youth and the Effects of COVID-19

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Carlotta Oltmanns, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Vienna in Austria. She is 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 writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


At least after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020, many areas and countries started to implement public health measures in order to slow down or prevent the spread of the virus disease [1]. These measures, including school and university closures, community lockdowns, physical distancing regulations and further restrictions of previous everyday activities, affected everyone, but they had a significant impact on the rapidly developing and therefore more fragile youth. [2]


Childhood, adolescence and early adulthood can be considered developmental phases with special focus on discovering and experiencing, which was likely to be limited by many of the restrictive measures.

An issue sometimes warned about, but practically often overlooked and proving to become increasingly alarming has to be seen in the deterioration of young people’s mental health and well-being. Even before this virus-associated global health crisis, the prevalence of mental health disorders had been worrying and perpetually increasing in the general population, but also in the youth. In terms of disability-adjusted life years, depression and anxiety disorders rank among the top five of total disease burden in the WHO European Region. Suicide is nothing less than the leading cause of death in adolescents from 10 to 19 years of age in regional middle- and low-income countries and the second leading cause in those with high income.
Considering the onset of 50% of all mental health issues in adulthood being either during or before adolescence, it is not at all overstated to view this period as highly critical for healthy emotional development. [3]

Vulnerable groups already facing disadvantages (minorities, migrants, etc.) are, of course, affected even more severely and are also further from receiving adequate support and treatment. [3]

One cannot say that young people have not also made good use of their thoughtfulness and creativity within the past 16 months – stories about signs of solidarity, assistance and support of elderly or those in need prove the opposite. Despite being increasingly burdened with academic and additional obligations and expectations, children, adolescents and young adults have continually strived to fulfil them, while facing uncertainty about most aspects of their future. Many may feel more anxious or hopeless about the following months and years ahead of them, but all of them have lost something. They have lost opportunities to build and strengthen irreplaceable social connections, spaces to find their passion and purpose and numerous possibilities to discover and experience life outside of their bedrooms.

The significant urgency to address this suffering becomes more and more evident. It is crucial to not only listen attentively to young people when they share their (mental health) concerns and needs, but to further encourage them and to advocate on their behalf where their voices might not be deemed important or loud enough.
After all, the future still lies in the youth. A future of mental health and well-being? It is on us to help shape it and there is a lot to catch up on.

References
[1] WHO, Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, 18 March 2020; https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331490/WHO-2019-nCoV-MentalHealth-2020.1-eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1

[2] WHO, Guidelines on mental health promotive and preventive interventions for adolescents; https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/mental-health/guidelines-on-mental-health-promotive-and-preventive-interventions-for-adolescents-hat.pdf?sfvrsn=3db4085b_2&ua=1

[3] WHO Regional Office for Europe: Factsheet for World Mental Health Day 2018: Adolescent mental health in the European Region; https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/383891/adolescent-mh-fs-eng.pdf

About the author

Carlotta Oltmanns is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Vienna in Austria. After having actively engaged in her local and national IFMSA (AMSA) branches, she is currently serving the federation as Development Assistant for Member Engagement for Europe. She would like to see herself as a global health and particularly mental health advocate, even more so after accompanying some of her friends’ and colleagues’ struggle and experiencing perspective-changing mental health problems herself. Her main aim is to spread awareness as well as hope.

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