Despite evidence showing that, in terms of the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are one of the worst-affected groups, there has been little political attention paid to the concerns and fears of young people.

We spoke to some young people directly to get their views on how the pandemic has affected them. Covering topics from mental health to education, this is what they told us…

Although young people’s risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is relatively low compared to other age groups, the long-term mental health impact of the virus restrictions on young people could potentially be far more damaging.

A recent poll conducted by the British Science Association (BSA) revealed that 67% of young people (aged 14-18 years old) are concerned about the impact that the pandemic is having on their mental health and wellbeing. Moreover, almost a quarter of young people (24%) want more advice on how to stay mentally healthy as a result of the pandemic.

These results paint a bleak picture of the realities young people are facing, with the Government being seen to have done little to support them over the last nine months.

One young person we spoke to who is concerned about their mental wellbeing is Chelmsford-based, A-level student, Ridha, who is 17 years old. Ridha became more aware of the impact that the pandemic was having on her mental wellbeing during lockdown:

COVID-19 has made me realise the vulnerability and significance of my mental health and that I need to give it attention and care,” she said.

Before the lockdown, I did not need to actively seek ways to ensure I had good mental health, but during the lockdown I made sure to follow my routine strictly and give myself proper and adequate breaks. This gave a structure to my day and a sense of control in the chaotic world we are living in.”

Similar worries were expressed by Chelmsford-based Year 13 student, Tanisha, who has found that the pandemic has exacerbated some of the challenges she was facing before.

Tanisha explained, “I think the main way COVID has impacted my life is by accentuating my mental wellbeing problems.

“As someone who struggled with mental wellbeing well before the pandemic struck, I’d say that is definitely one of the biggest areas of my life affected. Being at home is much easier when, mentally, you are more stable.

“Prior to the first lockdown, I was having counselling that had really begun to help me; the sudden isolation the country was forced into sent me down a slippery slope.”

 The concerns that both Ridha and Tanisha have expressed are not isolated though. A recent study by Young Minds revealed that 58% of young people surveyed described their mental health as poor prior to schools returning; rising to 69% with schools now open. This shows that many young people are mentally struggling with the rapid return to academic pressure.

Following on from months of disrupted education and cancelled exams, the BSA’s poll revealed the top fear amongst young people (14-18 years old) is the impact of COVID-19 on their education, exams and qualifications, with 81% being very or somewhat concerned.

With thousands of students in enforced self-isolation at universities and thousands more young people missing out on school because of COVID-19 positive tests – this comes as no surprise.

This was echoed by fears about their prospective jobs, with almost three-quarters of young people (73%) expressing concerns about the impact that COVID-19 will have on their future career as they face an economy in recession and the likelihood of a future where jobs are in short supply.

Back in April 2020, the BSA ran a similar survey which revealed that 79% of young people (14-18 years old) were very or somewhat concerned about the impact COVID-19 would have on their education.

The similarities in the results from the latest poll has shown these fears are still prevalent amongst young people, despite schools re-opening and a guarantee from the Government that exams in England will take place next summer.

Tanisha echoes these fears, expressing how she and other Year 13 students have received a lack of support and have felt isolated from the COVID-19 conversation.

“I feel like my Year (Year 13 at the moment) has been really left behind in educational considerations post-lockdown.

“Last year’s Year 13s went through a great deal when their exams were cancelled, however in the end, they tended to receive good grades that filled up the available university spaces. As an Oxford applicant, I have thus had to deal with more than the usual competition, putting a lot of pressure on me and the rest of my year group.

“We also lost a lot of time to learn in the summer months, and yet A-levels are not being altered significantly like GCSEs are. In terms of this, I don’t feel included in considerations.”

The BSA’s initial poll last April, revealed almost nine in ten respondents thought that scientists (89%) and politicians (92%) were not talking directly to them when discussing COVID-19.

The BSA warned that the ongoing lockdown in the UK at the time, could have serious ramifications if young people felt left out or frustrated by the Government’s failure to engage them in its guidance.

Despite early warnings, the situation continues to remain bleak, with the comparison data released indicating young people are still feeling left out of the conversation.

According to the results, 90% of young people feel scientists and politicians are still not addressing young people when discussing COVID-19 – a non-existent shift from the results seen earlier in the year. Ridha reinforces this by adding, “Although this question [of whether A-level exams will commence next summer] has been answered by the Government, it is one that has not satisfied everyone, unfortunately.”

As England’s lockdown measures are due to ease on 2 December 2020, the BSA is calling on the Government and other commentators to proactively address the fears and concerns young people have been experiencing to adequately support them to resume to normal life, or the ‘new normal’, over the coming months and years.

This is essential to inform responses implemented at policy level, and by those working directly with young people – to ensure they aren’t forgotten.  

If you're a young person and need urgent support with your mental health, please text YM to 85258. Young Mind’s Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. Find out more here: https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/get-urgent-help/youngminds-crisis-messenger/