Covid-19 and Mental Health: How Lockdown Can Affect Teenagers

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Teenage boys in Chichester West Sussex

Each generation has been affected by Covid-19 differently and this article focuses on how the unexpected changes and restrictions have impacted on generation Z and those aged 13 to 19 years of age. This extraordinary time has altered the health, education and finances of most junior citizens in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

How Lockdown Can Affect Teenagers Health

Being a teenager isn’t an easy time in life for many people. There are lots of physical changes taking place in the body with the natural process of developing during puberty and there are emotional changes too as hormones increase. The brain doesn’t reach full development until around the age of 20 so it can be a lot to deal with mentally just being a teenager.

Friends and peers at school or college therefore play an extra important role and it is tough on this generation to deal with staying at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Studying online is challenging and does not make up for the daily company of good mates. Teenagers can easily feel isolated and concerned about what is happening now and in the future. It has been very hard for some young people who have missed their friends a great deal this year.

The Young Minds charity explains how mental health is a big issue for young people. “1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s roughly 3 children in every classroom. 1 in 6 young people aged 16-24 has symptoms of a common mental disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder.” (1)

Fit and active under 21’s have little to fear from COVID-19 as they are least likely to become seriously ill if they are infected. However the disease has killed children and young adults and the contagion can be unintentionally passed onto older and more vulnerable family members and the public, for whom the virus might be life threatening. This is due to the fact that it can take a week or two after being exposed to coronavirus for any symptoms to develop.

Teenagers like the rest of the population have had to forgo their usual extra curriculum activities and sports this Spring which can be a big focus of joy and learning for those who are not particularly academic. So it would not be surprising if older children have been feeling more down and frustrated than normal and possibly upset about worrying statistics and reports in the media.

The changeable weather over the next week or two means meeting friends and family outdoors is still difficult. Not all of the population are able to take advantage of the increased freedoms to be able to congregate in small groups. All men and women and boys and girls who have serious health conditions and who have been shielding from any contact during the pandemic have been advised to continue shielding or proceed with great caution due to their vulnerable status and the potentially dangerous consequences of them becoming ill with the currently incurable pathogen.

Some young people have not had access to a garden during the general lockdown which has lasted nearly 3 months. There are also others who sadly are victims of emotional and physical abuse or live in unhappy households where adults are arguing. School, college and community clubs can be a lifeline for youngsters whose home life is dysfunctional.

Those who have been able have been getting outside every day to go walking, cycling and running to help to feel physically and mentally stronger, so they can cope with the stressful situation. Resilient youngsters have found a new routine and are supporting their friends with all sorts of online events and meet ups. The latest generation are amazingly well connected, informed and switched on and full of creative ways to make the world a better place. The huge demand for vegan and sustainable products, fashion and junior activists like Greta Thurnberg have demonstrated their ability to drive forward change.

However “disconnected” is the word used to describe how some have been feeling. Underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression and OCD have been heightened by the worrying global news, frightening national statistics and even the pressure of their peers heavily edited social media accounts.

Spending time with grandparents and other family members can really help well-being and these special meetings have been limited and often impossible because of preventing the spread of Covid-19. Hugging family members can be very reassuring for everyone at every age and it is restricted to just within our immediate household this year. This can be hard especially when extended family usually take care of their grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Many separated parents have found it impossible to agree for their children to spend time with both parents during the crisis which has added to already difficult situations at home.

Medical services have been altered and interrupted and it can be difficult for those with mental health problems to get the help and medication they need. Transport has been limited or may be too stressful for some at this time. For example the Young Womens Therapy service in Brighton which offers free confidential one-to-one therapy for young women aged 18 to 25 who had a difficult start in life is not taking new referrals at this time.(2)

Routine appointments like visiting the dentist and opticians has not been possible and will not be back to normal for some time as PPE is procured and new systems put in place to keep everyone safe. Family planning and sexual health clinics have been open with limited services but research by Radio 4 this week reports that clinic staff say they have seen numbers drop off drastically. This may be because of the lack of social interaction happening this year due to social distancing but it could also be an indication that young people are not getting the guidance and services they need to prevent health problems and unwanted pregnancies occurring in the near future.

How Lockdown Can Affect Teenagers Education

Teenagers may be looking after their siblings while their Mum or Dad are working as key workers or tucked away in their home office space. Children of medical professionals, carers, retail, transport workers, teachers and the emergency services may have seen their parents suffering or exhausted while trying to carry on in difficult circumstances over the last few months.

Primary and secondary schools have remained open for teaching the children of those continuing their essential roles during the crisis. However not all parents have wanted their offspring to attend during the pandemic so it has not helped every child who needs support from a safe environment.

The Gingerbread charity states that “On average, children who experience single parenthood during their childhood have poorer cognitive outcomes than those that grow up in families that remain “intact”. However, Gingerbread’s research shows that “family structure in itself has little effect on children’s cognitive and emotional outcomes once other factors such as parental education are taken into account.” (3)

This means that kids that grow up with parents who lack further and higher education can be disadvantaged. Therefore uninterrupted access to educational facilities is key to gaining a choice of professional options and the accompanying prosperity this usually brings.

Cancelling Sats tests and public exams was the right decision.” says sixth form teacher Niamh Sweeney in The Guardian. (4) There has been uncertainty for lots of families while the Education Secretary and leaders of educational institutions around the country decide how this years grades will be assessed and what the format will be for the next academic years education. It has been a particularly worrying time for young people who should have been taking exams this summer. These pupils are planning to go to college and university this Autumn and it makes applying to new courses even more problematic than the current quite complicated system. The normal process is complex and involves applications, predicted grades, interviews and clearing.

The government announced that secondary schools in England will be able to reopen for Years 10 and 12 from Monday 15 June. “only a quarter of pupils from those years will be allowed in school at any one time.” states the BBC today. Only around half of the children in younger years that have been told to attend school again turned up according to a variety of teachers interviewed on the BBC. (5) It now looks like schools will only really get going again in September, despite Johnson’s team at Number 10’s policy date. (5)

So depending on the support and guidance received at home, children could be receiving a beneficial but alternative learning experience this year lead by their parents. Alternatively they might be missing out completely on daily learning, especially if home life is chaotic and they do not have consistent access to a laptop or online device to complete set school work. It is not compulsory to send kids of any age to school at the moment in the UK so some boys and girls will inevitably be falling behind.

Libraries that often provide resources and quiet safe places for students to complete their homework have been closed. While some online services continue to be available, these facilities will have been much missed by everyone doing coursework and studying for exams.

How Lockdown Can Affect Teenagers Financial Lives

There are around 1.8 million single parents – they make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children.” states the charity Gingerbread. (3) Victoria Benson speaking on Moneybox on Radio 4 today said calls to the charities helpline have doubled as many single parents have lost income and support payments from previous partners because of problems with employment following the coronavirus crisis. Benson fears that thousands of more children will now face living below the poverty line in the UK.

Part time work is often vital for the under 20’s to help with household bills and their own essential items like clothing, travel and toiletries. This has been difficult as the whole retail and leisure industry, which includes restaurants has been closed. Jobs in supermarkets have been harder to get for those with less experience as demand for any existing roles has increased.

This year has been very mentally stressful for millions of people in this country with income instability, rising bills and an already high cost of living there has been a lot of pressures to face. Teenagers have had to also deal with interruptions to their education and options for the future.

As individuals and as a society we will all need to support this generation of young people to complete their eduction successfully and ensure they are provided with the professional opportunities they need to develop their careers. Most teenagers are amazingly bright and talented and we must support them to be able to live comfortably so they can concentrate on learning. With their help we can then build a productive, economically prosperous and healthy county going forward.

 

(1) ‘Mental health Statistics’ Young Minds, 8 June 2020 Mental health statistics, Young Minds

(2) Young Women’s Therapy, Oasis Project, 8 June 2020 Youn Womens Therapy, Oasis project

(3) Gingerbread single parents website, 8 June 2020 Gingerbread – single parents website

(4) ‘When the Covid-19 crisis finally ends, schools must never return to normal’ Niamh Sweeney, The Guardian, 7 April 2020 ‘Schools must never return to normal’ Niamh Sweeney, The Guardian

(5) ‘Coronavirus: Which schools are reopening for pupils?’ BBC News: Family & Education, 8 June 2020 Coronavirus: which schools are reopening? BBC News