On the 4th of January the UK was plunged into yet another lockdown. However, this one is more fearsome that the last. The media has, in my opinion, rightly backed the lockdown as deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test have risen to an all time high. However, little attention has been paid to the mental health effects of lockdown and COVID-19. The charity Mind has made repeated pleas to the UK government to address this crisis. They revealed in June 2020 that two thirds of adults over 25 and three quarters of young people with existing mental problems said their mental health worsened over lockdown. An even more shocking statistic is that 22% of adults who had no previous experience of poor mental health reported that they had poor or very poor mental health.
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But why is the pandemic causing a mental health crisis? There are a number of factors that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The most obvious factor is that loneliness has increased due to social distancing and stay at home orders. Lack of social contact and loneliness can lead to anxiety, stress and even depression if experienced for long periods of time. Worryingly, in a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation 24% of adults said they had experienced loneliness in the past two weeks in November 2020.
Another factor which has caused this mental health crisis is rising levels of anxiety and stress due to uncertainty caused by covid. People are worried for their physical health and that of their family, anxious about finances as the UK economy tanks and concerned about when they can see their loved ones again.
Studies conducted on mental health has revealed some alarming statistics on young people’s mental health. Much of the research I found consistently demonstrated that young people were the most affected by COVID-19 when it came to mental health issues. Young people already had the worst mental health out of any other age group pre covid. As a young person I can completely understand why this is occurring. Those at school are being forced to work at home in an often, very unproductive atmosphere. GCSEs and A-levels are hard enough without the uncertainty surrounding the work environment and whether the exams are taking place. This extra stress and anxiety is playing havoc with year 11 and sixth formers’ mental health.
At universities, students across the country have increased stress levels due to inconsistency amongst universities over safety nets, online classes and welfare available. At my university there is outrage at the university’s hands off approach that it is taking with regards to online exams and coursework. Some students have forty eight hours to complete exams (this is mainly in essay subjects). This may seem like a good amount of time but students are being expected to write essays to the standard of coursework in just two days when usually it can take two weeks or more. My housemate worked from nine in the morning until almost midnight everyday, for four days as she had two exams in a row. This is an unacceptable amount of stress to put on students. The University further offers little help with how these exams will be marked or what happens if something unexpected happens. The internet wasn’t working for five hours on one of my housemate’s exam days? Is there compensation for this? Who knows?
There are other issues for university students as well. Those in their final years are also worried about their prospects once they’ve graduated as the media predict one of the biggest economic downturns in history. There are also rent strikes occurring across the country as students feel betrayed by their universities as they are being expected to pay for accommodation that they may not be using. In such a precarious financial situation like a pandemic this seemingly wasted money hits young people even harder.
I interviewed 22 year old Katie (not their real name) on the issue of mental health and lockdown and she said “I’ve had such weird and violent mood swings ever since the pandemic started. I get anxious so much more when going outside as I’m terrified of giving anyone COVID-19. I haven’t been able to do my university work as I have to work, sleep and live all in the same place. Not changing the work environment really hampers my ability to be productive. I’m really worried that I won’t do well in my degree because of it.”
A student named Mohamed (not their real name), 21 told me that “I’ve never really suffered from any mental health issues. However, during the first lockdown, the boredom, the constant bad news and the lack of social contact sent me spiralling into a depression. The worst thing is that I’m now stressed and worried all the time that I will end up back into that dark place that I was in. This impacts my work and social life and I feel like there’s no help out there for me.”
The government needs to take actions to alleviate some of these stresses for students. A clear policy on future plans for schools and exams is the first step. Gavin Williamson has made too many mistakes surrounding education policy, the way students are being assessed needs to be transparent so that students have an idea of what their results may look like so they don’t stress for months. There needs to be improvement of mental health facilities which are specifically focused at younger people. This means recruiting more mental health nurses and doctors and funding more educational messages projects to help teach young people about mental health issues. It’s also important to give teachers and university staff more training on spotting the signs of deteriorating mental health so that they can signpost these students towards these improved mental health facilities is also vital.
There are lots of ways of improving your mental health and those around you. Just ringing your friends and loved ones for a chat can help people feel less lonely and isolated. So please, pick up the phone now to that one person you’ve said you’re going to ring for weeks now. They may need the call more than you know. There are some really good online resources for people to use as well. Mind has its own coronavirus hub which gives useful contacts and resources to help with mental health. Although the NHS’s ability to deliver mental health support has decreased during the pandemic, there is an urgent helpline for those in a crisis and there are a list of mental health charities for all different kinds of mental health issues on the NHS’s website. There is help out there so please don’t hesitate to go and find it if you are struggling with your mental health.
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