The hidden crisis: How the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting youth mental health
We are facing a parallel pandemic of mental health issues, particularly among young people. As with COVID-19 itself, prevention could be better than cure.
- 10 October 2023
- 3 min read
- by Daniella Biraaro
While the world remains focused on managing the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on physical health, economies and health care systems, another crisis is silently unravelling. In the rush to vaccinate rebuild our lives, the mental health of young people risks becoming a neglected casualty.
If we neglect the parallel pandemic of mental health, we do so at our peril. In this context, the well-worn maxim takes on an urgent new relevance: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The WHO has raised concerns about the psychosocial impacts of pandemic-preventing measures like self-isolation and quarantine, which have led to increased rates of loneliness, depression and domestic violence. A survey by the Indian Psychiatric Society reported a 20% rise in mental health issues since COVID-19 first hit.
While adults and youth both face significant mental health challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the nuances of their experiences vary considerably. Adults often grapple with stressors related to job security, financial stability and the health of ageing family members. Their mental health struggles often manifest as anxiety, depression, or burnout.
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Young people, on the other hand, face a unique set of challenges linked to their developmental stage. They are navigating formative years of socialisation, identity formation and academic progress, all of which have been disrupted by the pandemic.
Consequently, the mental health toll on young people is often characterised by heightened anxiety, depressive symptoms and issues related to self-esteem and self-worth. For them, social isolation, the abrupt switch to remote learning and the absence of extracurricular activities or milestone events like graduations can have long-term implications on their emotional and psychological well-being.
Thus, while both groups are unquestionably affected, the intricacies of their mental health struggles necessitate age-specific approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and support.
The spread of misinformation
According to clinical psychologist and mental health specialist Leona Buhenzire, speaking to VaccinesWork: "Misinformation on social media during the pandemic has not only distorted our understanding of the disease but has also created an 'infodemic' that is impacting young minds. We're seeing increased cases of anxiety disorders among teenagers who can't differentiate between verified information and scare tactics.
"Social media isn't just a distraction; it can be a distress signal. The constant exposure to doom-scrolling amplifies anxiety and feelings of helplessness in youth, who are still in formative years of emotional and cognitive development."
Despite the exigencies of the current situation, we must not lose sight of the psychological impacts of the pandemic. Just as we raced to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, equal attention and resources must be allocated to mental health care services. The pandemic has revealed that psychological well-being is not just a secondary aspect of health: it's a crucial component that deeply intersects with our ability to respond effectively to crises.
If we neglect the parallel pandemic of mental health, we do so at our peril. In this context, the well-worn maxim takes on an urgent new relevance: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A failure to act now could result in a cascade of mental health crises that will long outlast the viral pandemic itself.