The Silence of the Lambs: effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of the youth

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Vimbai Matshalaga, a Zimbabwean completing her third year medical studies at the Norman Bethune Health Science Center of Jilin University in Changchun. 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.


Since February of 2020, countries across the globe have been through various stages of isolation and lock downs. Social distancing has become a norm and will likely continue to be part of the picture moving forward. During this time, efforts have been channelled toward the overall safety from the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, a horror has quietly been looming, leaving a trail of innocent victims in it’s wake. In this article, we discuss the effects of the pandemic on the mental well being of young people, aged between 13 and 29.

Perhaps the most critical issue is the ongoing stigma associated with mental illness. Silence has often become an option as the institutions that would identify signs of struggle have been shut down. The burden is lumped on the youth as the symptoms are largely self-reported. Without the daily contact of peers and educators, access to counselling has also been compromised. Staying at home could be a haven of support but ultimately may present a challenge, especially if the stressors emanate from the family.

Changes to the daily routines have shown profound effects on the lifestyle of young people. There has been evidence of increased anxiety and mood disturbances, poor sleeping patterns, agitation, withdrawal from previous interests and changes in appetite. Although the list is not completely exhaustive, it offers an idea of the repercussions linked to the imposed isolations. Reports have shown that the number of patients on antidepressants has increased, particularly among the youth. As more and more individuals continue to suffer in silence, there has been a surge in the number of suicides.

For those on the older side of the demographic, other factors have compounded to contribute to the overall decline in mental health amongst young people. Considerable concern surrounds contracting or worse, losing family and friends to the virus. Financial security has been a great source of uncertainty. Trying to find stable employment, with more and more businesses shutting down only serves to dash dwindling hope. Further, being able to keep up with onlinline class on the backdrop of battling with fluctuating moods and anxiety continues to be a herculean task for some. As a result, the number of drop outs has surged across most of the academic levels.

The battle against the virus rages on. The grim picture above serves as a call to awareness for the issues that the young people are facing. Organisations and societies who have partnered in the fight against mental illness in the face of the pandemic continue to thrive despite being overwhelmed. Much progress has been made, to their credit, yet there is still more work to be done. Platforms to openly discuss mental awareness and minimise the effects of the stigma help encourage young people to speak up. The long term effects of untreated illness can prove harmful not only to the individual effected but to the society as a whole.

About the author

Vimbai Matshalaga is a Zimbabwean completing her third year medical studies at the Norman Bethune Health Science Center of Jilin University in Changchun. She is keen on public health affairs. When she is not buried in school work, she enjoys playing Tetris and learning the recorder. 

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