The effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of youth

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Hijab Mustunsar, a Final Year student of Allama Iqbal Medical College, Pakitsan. 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.


A pandemic is not just a medical phenomenon; it affects individuals and society causing anxiety, stress, and xenophobia. The behavior of an individual as a unit of society has marked effects on the dynamics of a pandemic that involves the level of severity, degree of flow, and aftereffects. (1)
The sudden outbreak of COVID-19, a virus that was never heard of before, and rapid human‐to‐human transmission of the SARS‐CoV‐2 resulted in the enforcement of regional lockdowns to stop further its spread. Isolation, social-distancing, and closure of educational institutes, workplaces, and entertainment venues consigned people to stay in their homes to help break the chain of transmission. (2) However, the restrictive measures undoubtedly have affected the social and mental health of individuals from across the board. May it be children, the elderly, or health professionals, rather every individual has faced mental tension in the lockdown.
Children experienced anxiety, distress, social-isolation, and an abusive environment. Some changes found through research in children’s behavior were excessive crying, difficulties with concentration and attention, and unexpected headaches. (3)

Elderly people are more prone to the COVID‐19 outbreak due to both clinical and social reasons such as having a weaker immune system and distancing from their families and friends due to their busy schedules. Their mental health was also affected as episodes of irritating behavior, change in their sleeping and eating habits, and emotional outbursts were seen through medical research. (4)

Generally, people recently released from quarantine experience stigmatization and develop a mix of emotions.

Different age groups respond to this social behavior differently, which can have both short‐ and long‐term effects. (5)

The youth has the most severe effect in any condition as it needs emotional stability.

Young doctors, nurses, and paramedics working as a front‐line force to fight the COVID‐19 outbreak are the most susceptible to develop mental health symptoms. Fear of catching a disease, long working hours, unavailability of protective gear and supplies, patient load, unavailability of effective COVID‐19 medication, death of their colleagues after exposure to COVID‐19, social-distancing and isolation from their family and friends, and the dire situation of their patients has taken a negative toll of the mental health of health workers. (6)

The youth of the nation represents the future of that country. Due to the pandemic, the youth around the world is suffering extreme emotional distress.

Young couples have faced alot of compatibility problems due to misunderstandings and pre-occupied, tensed mind.

The reduction of employees to 50% in every sector, as ordered by the government, increased joblessness across the world, which proved to be another major cause of mental stress.

People away from home stuck in far-away areas felt homesickness, while those working from home felt the need of healthy environmental interaction.

This mental depression of youth has a strongly negative impact on the mental development at this stage of life.

Mishandling situations due to preoccupied mind has become a norm, and the blame is on the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some studies have shown that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is closely related to depression and other psychological problems, the leading cause being COVID-19 these days. (7) According to a theoretical model developed by Ehlers and Clark (8), after experiencing a traumatic event, individuals make a negative assessment of the trauma and its sequelae. In this way, they easily adopt maladaptive strategies to maintain PTSD symptoms such as invasion, arousal symptoms and strong negative emotions. (10). Therefore, the youth has a tendency to develop psychological problems after experiencing traumatic stress disorder.

Another study found that women were more likely to show symptoms of PTSD during the COVID-19 outbreak, which may reduce the incidence of PTSD (11), but men take more responsibility leading to PTSD and psychological distress symptoms (12). Regarding factors of educational level, people with less education are more likely to show PTSD symptoms and psychological distress due to COVID-19. 

The government and relevant psychological institutions should take relevant psychological counseling measures to help this group recover from the impact of COVID-19. 

REFERENCES:

1. Moukaddam N, Shah A. Psychiatrists beware! The impact of COVID‐19 and pandemics on mental health. Psychiatric Times 2020. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychiatrists-beware-impact-coronavirus-pandemics-mental-health. Accessed May 03, 2020.

2. Javed B, Sarwer A, Soto EB, Mashwani Z‐R. Is Pakistan’s response to coronavirus (SARS‐CoV‐2) adequate to prevent an outbreak? Front Med. 2020;7:1‐4. 10.3389/fmed.2020.00158. Accessed May 03, 2020. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

3. WHO warning on lockdown mental health. Euobserver 2020. https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/147903. Accessed May 03, 2020.

4. Correia T. SARS‐CoV‐2 pandemics: the lack of critical reflection addressing short‐ and long‐term challenges. Int J Health Plann Manage. 2020;35:1‐4. 10.1002/hpm.2977. Accessed May 03, 2020. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

5. Mental health and coping during COVID‐19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html. Accessed May 03, 2020.

6. Yao H, Chen J‐H, Xu Y‐F. Patients with mental health disorders in the COVID‐19 epidemic. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020;7(4):e21 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30090-0. Accessed May 03, 2020. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

7.Taha SA, Matheson K, Anisman H. H1N1 was not all that scary: uncertainty and stressor appraisals predict anxiety related to a coming viral threat. Stress Health. 2014;30:149–157. doi: 10.1002/smi.2505. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

8. Shultz JM, Baingana F, Neria Y. The 2014 Ebola outbreak and mental health: current status and recommended response. JAMA. 2015;313:567–568. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.17934. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

9. Qu Z, Wang CW, Zhang X, Ho AH, Wang X. Prevalence and determinants of depression among survivors 8 months after the Wenchuan earthquake. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2014;202:275–279. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000118. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

10. Ehlers A, Clark DM. A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behav Res Ther. 2000;38:319–345. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7967(99)00123-0. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

11. Xu W, Fu G, An Y, Yuan G, Ding X, Zhou Y. Mindfulness, posttraumatic stress symptoms, depression, and social functioning impairment in Chinese adolescents following a tornado: mediation of posttraumatic cognitive change. Psychiatry Res. 2018;259:345–349. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.09.088. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

12. Xu JP, He Y. Psychological health and coping strategy among survivors in the year following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Psychiat Clin Neuros. 2012;66:210–219. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.2012.02331.x. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

About the author

Hijab Mustunsar, a Final Year student of Allama Iqbal Medical College, has won many writing competitions. She won the All-Pakistan Ghazian English Poem Competition securing the SECOND position. Her article on “TRANSGENDER AND THEIR SOCIAL ISSUES” was also published in IFMSA MSI39. She was also won 24 medals including 8 GOLD medals in arts, calligraphy and painting. She is a researcher, an observer, and has leadership qualities. She has been the VICE PRESIDENT of AIMC Literary Society. Reading and expressing her feelings through writings is her special interest.

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