How has COVID-19 impacted youth mental health?
The worldwide pandemic that is COVID-19 has universally affected humanity. It is difficult to imagine a population that hasn’t been affected in some way by the effects of the virus from different geographical locations, industries and ages alike. One aspect that has taken a serious hit is mental health. Mental health in the general population has been impacted; many are experiencing mental health problems stemming from the pandemic. Within the local population of Hong Kong, studies showed that 67% of respondents felt lost about the future with more than 70% showing signs of moderate to severe depression (1).
One demographic in particular that has experienced a significant impact during these trying times is youth, particularly those still in school. Almost half of those polled locally between February and July of 2020, aged between 18 – 24, have reported symptoms of PTSD (46%) or depression (50%) (1). There are several contributing factors to this, including the suspension of in-person schooling and the way that students have been learning via online instruction. Classes taught at home via teleconference have limited individualised academic and social support from teachers and classmates alike. Full days of classes have changed to half days, and some international students have class at off hours, such as night classes. This shift in scheduling has in turn affected students daily routine and eating, sleeping, exercising habits, which may in turn affect learning and mental health.
For primary school students it is difficult to imagine how different life was over a year ago, their days changed from regular full days of school to days on end spent at home with minimal time outdoors. A study in China, one of the earliest full countrywide lockdowns, showed after an average of 33.7 days of lockdown, a sample group of schoolchildren had signs of worsened mental health. 22.6% children reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety (2). For children of this age, school is an essential outlet for social interaction, as well as mental and emotional support. For families with younger children, it is imaginable how impactful the dearth of socialization can be for these kids.
For secondary school aged students, it’s a similar dilemma but with an added stress of testing results. Many Hong Kong students face the annual Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), which is the university entrance examination needed for continued higher education in Hong Kong. According to a survey, 52% of DSE candidates polled between June 27 and July 14th returned a stress reading of seven or above on a scale of 1-10, amounting to a 4% increase on last year’s figures (3). Due to less schooling, testing delays, and possible remarking, students are feeling underprepared to take the annual examination. Such low morale regarding examinations and university acceptance impacts overall mental health for students.
University aged students are likewise impacted. Not only locally in Hong Kong, but also internationally. At least six of eight publicly-funded universities in Hong Kong announced that most courses in the first semester of 2020-21 would be conducted online, continuing the trend of remote learning (4). Globally, at least 14 million university students have been affected by the recent closures of higher education (5). New graduates and senior students are also facing an additional hurdle: a more limited job market. Hong Kong’s current unemployment rate has climbed for nine straight months as the corona pandemic drags the economy down; the unemployment rate is currently at 6.2%, the highest in more than 15 years (6).
Caregivers and households are facing added pressure with students not being able to go to school. Families where caregivers have full time jobs have to navigate a remote learning environment for their kids in addition to working from home puts the whole household under stress. No matter what age the student is, families in a household have extra mouths to feed, extra meals to prep, extra energy to burn off, and extra space in need. It is not surprising that family conflicts have been reported as one of the major stressors of deteriorating mental health.
The pandemic is here to stay for a while; it is important to keep in mind the mental health of students and those around them during this difficult time.
This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
For resources and stories on youth mental health, please visit: www.coolmindshk.com
For a list of emergency contacts, please visit: www.mind.org.hk/find-help-now/
For other local mental health services, please visit our Community Directory: www.mind.org.hk/community-directory/
For more information on mental health in Hong Kong, please visit: https://www.mind.org.hk/mental-health-in-hong-kong/
For more information on seeking help in Hong Kong, please visit: https://www.mind.org.hk/getting-help/
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