Youth Mental Health and Covid-19 Conference: Reflections Part 3

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Following our joint conference with The Centre for Society & Mental Health, the Mental Elf and the Policy Institute, panelist and Young People’s Advisory Group member Anna highlights key messages from the event.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a large impact on all of us in the UK. Routines have changed and many of us have had to adapt to a new environment faced with uncertainty and worry. I took part in a panel discussion on day 2 of the conference, which discussed research findings on the impact of the pandemic on a range of young people.

Girl with curly hair holding on to strands of string with bubbles in the background. Label: Measuring mental health

Have young people from marginalised and vulnerable groups been disproportionately affected by the pandemic?

One study found those with special educational needs and disabilities, those with a history of mental health difficulties, and those from more socioeconomically deprived families had more mental health difficulties during the pandemic.

All data, however, has limitations. Dr Charlotte Gayer Anderson explored some of these and reviewed more studies. The results from the reviewed studies mirrored what was found prior to the pandemic; that is, mental health problems were higher among the most marginalised and vulnerable.

This suggests that, whilst those from marginalised and vulnerable groups have suffered, perhaps not disproportionately so. Only longitudinal studies using standardised measurement tools, of which there are few, may be able to explore this question in more depth.

Furthermore, the lack of data on other vulnerable groups, e.g. young people within the LGBTQ+ community, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, those living in secure children’s homes, means that many are currently left out of the picture. 

How have families on low incomes been affected by the pandemic?

Those in a difficult situation prior to the pandemic now face further difficulties, with many struggling to make ends meet. Reduced incomes and the inability to seek support from others have left those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds with further challenges. New problems, such as the need to provide their child with an internet connection to facilitate online learning, has put an additional strain on families, especially those newly unemployed following job cuts due to the pandemic. Dr Katie Pybus further explored the impact of the pandemic on those with ADHD, relaying the difficulties in adjusting to new environments.

A stack of books with glasses on the top of the stack as well as a cup of pencils. Label: Education and Awareness

What is the impact on young people from diverse backgrounds?

Looking at ethnically diverse places in inner London, Dr Gemma Knowles presented on the impact of the pandemic on different groups, looking at a range of factors including gender, ethnicity and household income. Young Black African and Caribbean people were more likely to be significantly concerned about their future and financial hardships. The same was also found for those on free school meals (an indicator of low social-economic background).

Additionally, girls were found more likely to worry about falling behind in school than boys. One should note, however, that whilst pre-existing inequalities persisted, they generally did not widen during the pandemic. When assessing family relations, it appeared that there were few noticeable changes. However, once the evidence was broken down into different categories, it became evident that data reflecting those who reported family relations to have greatly improved, was negated by those who reported a worsening of relationships. 

How do we help victims of domestic abuse?

Laura E. Fischer and Jane Chevous presented on how the pandemic has affected children who are at risk of domestic abuse, and the difficulties for young people to reach out for help, many of whom do not associate themselves with the term ‘victim’.

The necessity for awareness and education, the need for safe places, trust, barriers to disclosure and help for young people to feel heard, were among the things discussed, each highlighting the necessity for a global conversation to take place in order to allow people to recognise and respond effectively to abuse.

How did lockdown impact the mental health of young people in inner city London?

A video shown by Dr Georgina Miguel Esponda captured the voices of young people, explaining how, at first, many appreciated the opportunity to spend time with family, describing the first lockdown as a ‘holiday’. As time passed, however, lockdown became more difficult, and the boredom and repetitiveness of our new environment affected each of us in different ways.

For some, this manifested itself in feelings of distress that were classed as ‘normal’, whilst others felt a loss of purpose due to the changes in their routine. Feelings of being drained, tired and stressed, compounded by continual academic pressure, were all too common, and – combined with the inability to socialise – the lockdown became progressively more difficult to manage.

9 people looking up with arms around each other. Label says 'A Collective responsibility'

How do young people feel about lockdown - a talk with the Young People’s Advisory Group

As part of the Young People’s Advisory Group, it was great to have an opportunity to speak about how, as a young person, the pandemic has impacted us. In some respects, the lockdown has brought positive changes which has helped people. With everybody at home, feelings of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) have disappeared, allowing many to feel a sense of relief.

Some have been able to find an online community of people with similar interests and have flourished in using technology as a way of keeping in touch with friends. The online world, however, is not without its dangers. Cases of web calls and comment sections being infiltrated by sexist and racist comments is not uncommon and has left many people missing friends and safe spaces, such as queer and LGBTQ+ societies. Social media, as much as it may advertise itself as such, is not able to replicate the real-life relationships you have with people, be it friends, family or teachers. 

A final message for everyone

This lockdown has transformed our lives in ways unimaginable. For some, our lives have improved, but for many, the lack of social interaction and ‘normality’ has been a struggle. Some groups have faced discrimination and hate. The impact on Asians has been nothing short of horrific. Anti-asian hate crime has risen by almost 150%, and Asians have become a scapegoat to blame the virus on, revealing the extent to which anti-Asian sentiment has become normalised in our society.

What I want to highlight is that there are no expectations as to how you should be managing during this pandemic. You do not have to start a new hobby. You do not have to read more, or exercise more, or develop new skills. It’s fine if you fall behind in school and it’s fine if you are struggling with online learning because, as we all know, these circumstances are not normal. 

You can watch all of the week’s webinars on The Mental Elf’s YouTube channel which can be accessed here:

Images are courtesy of Nefertem P.M Imani, a young artist from Fully Focused Productions. You can follow his work on his official Instagram handle @temartoon