2020 was filled with feelings of uncertainty, inner turmoil and downright hopelessness. This unprecedented period in modern history has thrown us a challenge unlike any we are ever likely to face again in our lifetimes. The primary cause for our worry 12 months on is still the amount of people we are losing to COVID-19. According to the WHO, 2.38 million people have lost their lives over the course of the last 15-16 months. The more damning statistic, however, is that those numbers don’t seem like they are any closer to slowing down. In response, governments around the world have resorted to locking down their countries repeatedly in an attempt to slow down infection rates. Whilst in theory this may seem like the appropriate course of action, the recurring nature of these lockdowns has led to seemingly irreversible mental health effects in both the short and long term.
Young people in particular are feeling the full force of these consequences and will continue to do so well into the future. Whilst the general consensus is that these lockdowns are viable in the short-term, the extended period of time during which they have been in place has resulted in detrimental effects on the vast majority of the generation that are our future. It has almost been a full year since we were instructed to leave our education behind in the physical sense. Since then, it has been countless torrid hours of staring at computer screens to absorb content that we never ended up using, with the majority of summer exams in the UK being cancelled. The crippling uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is quickly leading to the creation of a generation devoid of ambition and enthusiasm. They no longer have a future that is completely in their hands.
It has become increasingly evident that young adults are facing an uphill battle to recover from the effects of lockdowns. The ages of 16-18 are a terrifying time in most teenagers lives as they transition through daunting phases in their lives. Whether it be joining a new Sixth Form, graduating or going off to university, the necessary support to help make these transitions seamless are not available for many of these students. The existence of lockdowns has hindered their ability to settle into their new ‘environments’, with online alternatives not living up to the billing. This coupled with inadequate mental health support options at higher education facilities has led to increasing cases of anxiety and depression for people aged 16-25. A survey carried out by Young Minds saw 40% of students claim that they do not have adequate mental health support in their institutions. This is an alarming statistic considering the frailty of today’s situation. With seemingly no immediate way out of this suspended reality, a lack of appropriate support has likely contributed to a rise in mental health issues amongst young adults. According to the same survey, 80% of respondents claimed their mental health had deteriorated during lockdown, with 41% saying it had gotten much worse.
There are numerous reasons why this has been the case. Primarily, the restrictions put in place take away the ability for people to meet with loved ones. The first lockdown in the UK restricted any household mixing and as a result, young people were unable to meet any of their friends. With much of their social contact coming through their educational institutes, this restrictive capacity to socialise can very easily lead to feelings of detachment and isolation. Whilst there is no doubt that the beginning of the pandemic called for lockdowns, a third in the space of a year has left the younger population in fear for their futures. For many young people, the first thought on their mind is ‘What is the point?’ What is the point of going to university, starting a new job, initiating a start-up or travelling, if it can all be taken away in an instant? Satisfying these aspirations is no longer a desire in this pandemic-riddled world. The days are painfully repetitive and dull, with a lack of routine leading to a fall in discipline for many young adults. Students are very quickly losing that youthful exuberance that drives them to succeed in the ‘real world’. Now they barely have an idea of what the ‘real world’ is.
If we consider the long-term impact of having lockdowns, we can begin to really understand why deteriorating mental health is a problem for the future of our society. Firstly, in terms of employment, it is likely that many students will not have the opportunity to get real face to face experience in a working environment. Those who are in their second or third years of university are unlikely to gain any sort of experience that can aid their future careers. With so much of the private sector unable to operate as normal, internship and placement opportunities are drying up and becoming even more scarce than they were pre-pandemic. As a result, students will not be able to gain the necessary practical experience and skills to operate effectively in the workplace. Without these experiences, students are devoid of situations that require creativity and problem solving. This can lead to a fall in the production of innovative thinkers; individuals who are vital to the development of our society.
Furthermore, private sector firms are likely to be engaging in a more capital-intensive world in an attempt to cut down on costs, leading to even less opportunities for employment. It is very plausible to suggest that statistics such as unemployment and underemployment are likely to rise if we continue without significant intervention. Adding on to this, lockdowns have resulted in a closure of thousands of firms around the world. In a country like the UK where the public sector provides so many vital services, it is imperative that there is adequate funding. With the private sector being halted in its spending potential, tax returns (those that fund the public sector) are likely to fall. As a result, the public sector services are likely to be worse for the future generation, with funding being significantly lower. The NHS, for example, which is 99% funded by taxpayer’s money, could see a fall in the quality of its healthcare. This could be detrimental in a time where mental health issues are arising at a faster rate than any time in recent history. According to the Prince’s Trust, 1 in 4 young adults aged between 16-25 feel there is no way out of this pandemic. This feeling of hopelessness encourages idleness and so productivity levels have dropped severely among this demographic. People are having a hard time finding the motivation to be productive, with their being no clear escape route. While government’s have been dealing with the pandemic, they are ignoring the devastating long-term effects that their measures are likely to herald.
There are methods to try and redeem this worrying predicament. The government in the UK needs to take notice of an issue that could plausibly transform into a worrying endemic. Without significant and robust intervention, the next generation could be facing an uphill struggle to create futures for themselves. There seems to be a default response to rising cases which is to immediately lockdown the country. We are currently in our third lockdown, a statement that seems ridiculous based on the promises of the government to control the pandemic by Autumn of last year. It is evident that the long-term impacts of these lockdowns are not being considered to be serious enough. The fact is that they are, and the evidence supports the notion that action needs to be taken now. Young Minds reports that 31% of people who want to access mental health resources are unable to do so, due to the lack of specialists to cope with demand. There needs to be a bigger emphasis on providing the right type of support. Campaigns are frequently run for people to look out for their mental health. However, the facilities are simply not adequate enough to meet the demand for the service.
This is a difficult time for everyone, there is no doubting that. The existence of lockdowns is not completely lost on the younger generation. By staying at home, we do limit the spread of the virus. We limit the number of deaths and we protect the older generation. However, the existence of vaccines should also signal the end of a measure that is bringing more harm than good.