How coronavirus has impacted youth mental health

The effects of our recent pandemic and lockdown have not just been physical, but have led to increased anxiety for millennials and Gen Z.

by Roisin Lanigan
14 July 2020, 10:11am

While the focus of 2020, in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, has understandably been on physical health, new research has indicated that the situation has had a greater effect on our mental and emotional health than first anticipated too. Staying stuck at home for weeks on end, unable to see friends and loved ones, dealing with financial worries and the ever-present threat of a deadly illness has taken its toll, with rates of anxiety and depression increasing, particularly among young people.

A new collaborative study from UCL, Imperial College London and the University of Sussex found that lockdown, in particular, has resulted in an increase of quarantine-related mental health problems, which is disproportionately affecting young people. The You-COPE study, which consisted of an online 20-minute survey, followed by subsequent online surveys every two weeks, investigated health and wellbeing for young people in the UK during lockdown.

The researchers found that almost half of 16 to 24-year-olds without previous mental health issues reported high levels of depressive symptoms during lockdown, while a third experienced anxiety ranging from moderate to severe. 28% said that lockdown had negatively impacted the quality of their personal relationships, which can make these problems more acute. Almost half of those with no existing mental health issues reported overeating to deal with stress and mood changes, while for those with depression or anxiety this was even higher, at around 60%.

Exacerbating the situation is the unfortunate reality that lockdown caused serious disruptions for young people who were already receiving mental health care, or those on waiting lists. Demand has increased on already overstretched services, most of which have been forced to move online and take place over video apps. “Many young people receiving mental health care have reported disruption to their services,” Lee Hudson, associate professor at UCL, told The Guardian of the results. “This can have serious long-term impacts. This pandemic has been a double whammy for young people as they are also at greater risk of unemployment.”

The research is doubly important when considering that many believed coronavirus has had a lesser effect (physically speaking) on young people. While this may be the case, studies like these illustrate that the true picture is much more complicated, and the after-effects of lockdown and the hellscape that is 2020 will continue to reverberate for some time.

“Young people are not a group directly at high risk from COVID, but they are certainly at high risk from the lockdown,” Lee continued. “They’ve given up a lot on behalf of the whole country. Now we owe it to them to do everything we can to mitigate the impact of the lockdown on their mental health.”

mental health