Although the COVID-19 crisis is first and foremost a physical health crisis, it also contains the seeds of a major mental health crisis if action is not taken. Even in the best of times, good mental health is essential to the functioning of society. It must be at the forefront of each country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has had a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of entire societies, and it is a priority that must be addressed as soon as possible. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization officially declaring COVID a pandemic, the mental health of young people is in grave danger.
Doctors and researchers are reporting a serious downward spiral in young people’s collective psychological well-being after many months of isolation, economic insecurity piling on an already precarious job market, and the enduring stress of worrying about their and their loved ones’ health, according to The New York Times. Of course, these are issues and challenges that affect everyone, but younger people appear to be hit the hardest.
Psychological distress is common in populations. Many people are distressed as a result of the virus’s immediate health effects and the consequences of physical isolation. Many people are afraid of getting sick, dying, or losing family members. People have been physically separated from loved ones and peers. Millions of people are facing economic hardship because they have lost or are at risk of losing their income and livelihood. Misinformation and rumors about the virus, as well as deep uncertainty about the virus’s future, are common sources of distress. There is a long-term increase in the number and severity of mental health problems.
After a long time of isolation and economic instability piling on an already-fraught job market, and the enduring stress of worrying about their and their loved ones’ health, researchers are reporting a serious downward spiral in young people’s psychological well-being.
Many people have had to adjust to a drastically different way of life as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, while also dealing with the suffering caused by the pandemic and its subsequent economic crisis. As a result of necessary short-term health-protection measures, young people, in particular, are now facing ongoing economic and social challenges that jeopardize their long-term health and well-being.
Our Young People’s Future Health Inquiry discovered that the age range of 12 to 24 years is critical for young people as they lay the groundwork for a healthy adulthood. Making a successful transition to adulthood is heavily reliant on having access to high-quality work, stable housing, and supportive relationships. However, in order to obtain these, young people must have financial, practical, and emotional support, as well as the necessary skills and connections. According to research, being socially and economically disadvantaged at this age has biological consequences that can lead to poorer health outcomes in the long run.
“Many feel they are paying the price not of the pandemic, but of the counter-pandemic measures,” Dr. Nicolas Franck, the head of a French psychiatric network, told the New York Times. Earlier in the COVID outbreak, a CDC study found that more than a quarter of Americans aged 18 to 24 had considered suicide during the pandemic.
“We are in the midst of a mental health pandemic, and I don’t believe it is being treated with nearly enough respect,” London psychotherapist Arkadius Kyllendahl told the New York Times. Kyllendal also stated that in recent months, they have seen twice as many younger clients as usual.
The situation is so bad that some therapists have advised their patients to break quarantine or socialize, and some have even urged officials to reopen schools. All are bad for public health, but their logic appears to be that these are desperate times.
“Those who say that, after all, these are challenges that young people must face, that they will emerge stronger, this is only true for some, those with more resources,” Dr. Stefano Vicari, director of child neuropsychiatry at Rome’s Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital, told the New York Times.
It’s a troubling trend with no clear solution, especially because the things that might help people cope are also the things that put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus. But, hopefully, as more officials and experts become aware of the problem, more options and lifelines will become available.
We’ve already paid too much for this pandemic. It has painfully demonstrated how critical it is to our collective health that everyone has access to comprehensive, high-quality health care. We owe it to the next generation to ensure that health-care systems care for the whole person, so that young people everywhere can get the help they need — both physically and psychologically.