Katherine Thirkettle discusses the impact of the pandemic on young people's mental health and what more needs to be done to address this crisis.
The global pandemic and the subsequent measures that have been implemented with the aim of curtailing the spread of COVID-19 have inadvertently furthered the already significant and widespread issue of mental health problems, particularly for the young population. The governmental restrictions regarding staying in one’s home for days on end, with little contact with the outside world, in addition to the considerable concerns experienced regarding the pandemic itself and future consequences, has created the ideal environment for the growth of mental health issues. Some prevalent mental health concerns include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, panic attacks and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which can lead to dependence upon drugs and alcohol.
A study conducted by the University of Glasgow discovered that young people, and women (of all ages), are more likely to have had their mental health severely affected as a result of the pandemic. The research focused on the ‘three waves’ of lockdown that occurred between March 31st and May 11th. The study also discovered that:
- Suicidal thoughts had risen from 8% to 10% and were highest among those aged 18-29 years, with an increase from 12.5% to 14%.
- Over one in four (26.1%) of those surveyed experienced at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms.
- People from lower socio-economic backgrounds were seen to be more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, when compared with those from higher socio-economic backgrounds
The academic pressures on students during the pandemic, particularly those at university, are consistent with the pressures experienced by students prior to Coronavirus. Despite the fact that universities had repeatedly told students that online learning is not comparable with in-person teaching (such as watching lectures online) as such learning has a strong correlation with poorer exam results, the same level of academic pressures continue to be enforced and the same high level of exam results are expected. This is on top of the fact that the daily life of students has been radically changed and limited, thus increasing the chance that, due to lack of routine and ‘normal’ student life, students will understandably struggle to work at the same level as before.
If this wasn’t enough, students at university have been left in the dark regarding COVID-19 matters, far more than many other groups in society. In the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding the third lockdown in January, he failed to even acknowledge this section of society, let alone instruct or advise them on how to act or how to safely carry out their studies. This severe lack of advice and certainty clearly adds to the worry and confusion experienced by those already struggling with work.
Students isolating in halls of residence in Autumn 2020 at the University of Manchester (to name one case of many) were not given any extra support from the university, except for food parcels. A university spokesperson stated that mental health is “one of our highest priorities” and the university has since implemented a new helpline that operates “24/7”, that connects students with trained counsellors and advisors. But is this too little, too late?
Sadly, this seems to be the case. A number of suicides have occurred in several universities across the country, including the death of a “brilliant” young fresher, Finn Kitson, at the University of Manchester, who tragically passed away in Halls in October 2020. His friends and family have since raised over £26,000 for the mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Although discussion regarding mental health has increased significantly in recent years, within public and governmental institutions, as well as within social media platforms, we need to do more to address the specific issue of the severity of mental health issues triggered by the pandemic. We can’t yet know the long-lasting impacts of the mental isolation that Coronavirus has caused. The focus on saving lives by avoiding the spread of COVID-19 through isolation leads to the need for further action and discourse from the Government regarding other types of health. This is crucial in order to save the minds of students and all those suffering.
If you are suffering, you are not alone. These people are ready to listen when you are ready if you need help or if you just want to talk. If you are concerned about a loved one, these numbers can also offer advice and support.
- Samaritans. For anything that’s upsetting you. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 (free from any phone), email [email protected]. Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).
- SANEline. For any mental health problems, your own or someone else’s. Call on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
- The Mix. If you're under 25, you can Call on 0808 808 4994 (Sunday-Friday 2pm–11pm)
- Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you're under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about someone else, call 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email [email protected] or text 07786 209 697.
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). If you identify as male, you can call on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) or use their webchat service.
- Nightline. If you're a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service.
- Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email [email protected] or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
- A.L.L. If you live in Wales, you can call on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text 'help' followed by a question to 81066.
Helplines Partnership - For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind's Infoline can also help you find services that can support you. If you're outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.
Katherine is a second-year Politics and Philosophy student and is particularly interested in EU relations and policy-making.