Comment Writer Rhea Phagura highlights the harmful impact of the Pandemic on the younger generation’s mental health, arguing that it is not discussed enough and the Government are failing to provide the appropriate support
It is argued that children have not been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier studies suggest that children and young people only account for a small percentage of COVID-19 infections, leading to the consensus that children and young people have remained unscathed by the virus. This is not the case. While the physical consequences have been recorded of COVID-19, including the vast number of deaths and hospitalisations, or the economic problems that have arisen from the pandemic, the long-lasting and harmful impact that COVID-19 has unleashed upon the younger generation is not discussed enough. For example, in April 2021, the Royal College of Psychiatrists submitted data that concluded a sharp rise in poor mental health after the first lockdown was announced in March of 2020. What is most distressing, is that the data revealed that there were record numbers of children and young people who sought emergency care for problems such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders – a figure which increased a substantial 20%, reaching a record high of 18,269. This isn’t surprising, but it would be a falsehood to suggest that COVID-19 is the primary source.
Before COVID-19 came into existence, there was a pre-existing crisis in child and adolescent mental health, as the emotional well-being, education, and vital development of children and younger people declined drastically. The narrative that COVID-19 has created an apparent psychological epidemic has appeared to have spread almost as quickly as the virus itself. This simply is not true – COVID-19 has only heightened a predicament that was already there. In 2019/2020, an estimated 538,000 children were referred to for help, which was an increase of 35% on the previous year, with treatments only increasing by 4%. The UK Government is partly to blame, as it has continued to fail to provide adequate funding and support to the chronically underfunded mental health services belonging to the NHS, time and time again. Services such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) have been routinely criticised for failing to provide appropriate and long-term support for children before. What does the Government expect when they are continuously slashing the necessary funding? The demand will only increase, and the well-being of children will only worsen until their needs are properly met and resourced through additional investment throughout the NHS.
The figures have only gotten much worse. In a January 2021 survey conducted by YoungMinds UK, 67% of young people aged 13-25 believed that the pandemic will have a considerable long-term and negative effect upon their mental health – and the data confirms this. With the demands of teaching being wholly online, along with the countless number of lockdowns that have lead to school closures, young people and their educational opportunities have been disrupted. Significantly, their livelihoods are being subjected to social isolation and loneliness, where missing opportunities to connect with peers — even in mundane, informal interactions — the need to establish a tangible connection is desperate. Higher education has too, undergone a dramatic transformation during the pandemic, as the UK Government’s failure to prioritise university students’ welfare has been deeply unfair. From my own experience, COVID-19 has left me in a much worse position than I could have ever anticipated. The pandemic has forcibly isolated me from the connections I had built to help me feel safe and connected, leading me to quickly realise just how much I had relied on socialising with my friends or family. These hardships are heightened further for those who belong to vulnerable and marginalised communities, as the unequal impact that COVID-19 has had upon these communities, leads them to face a disproportionate number of infections and deaths. We must also consider the pervasive pattern of racism, discrimination, and social injustice around the world which has continued to threaten the already overwhelming hardships that are faced by children from marginalised communities during the pandemic.
It is no wonder that COVID-19 is greatly affecting children and young people’s emotional well-being – but with the burden of having an inadequate system and practically no accessible support, the UK will face a serious crisis before it is too late. In the current climate with the NHS focusing upon combatting the pandemic and prioritising COVID-19 vaccinations, inpatients, and intensive care, it is unlikely that the focus will shift upon bettering the mental state of children and young people. We can help by listening and responding with care, but I believe real change will only occur if essential investments and support are provided to better the circumstances and mental well-being of the younger generation, and to hopefully, help to build a better future.
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