The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact not just on our health and/or economic situation, but on our mental health as well. For those who struggled with their mental health before the coronavirus, this situation has been all the more challenging. Fear of the unknown, uncertainty, social distancing and loss of access to mental health support might increase their level of stress and anxiety. For this reason, it is fundamental to pay attention to those experiencing mental health problems and to give them the support they need.
The UK-based organisation YoungMinds carried out a survey at the end of March to enquire about the effects of the pandemic on young people with mental health problems. 2,111 young people between the ages of 13 and 25 participated in the survey, all of whom sought mental health support prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of all the respondents, 51% agreed that the coronavirus had somewhat of a negative impact on their mental health, and 32% stated that their mental health had become much worse due to the pandemic. Only 9% suggested that the condition of their mental health had remained the same.
According to the results, the following factors had the greatest impact on their mental health:
- concerns about their family’s health: many of the respondents were anxious about the health of their family, and feared being responsible for cross-infection
- school and university closures: schools are a safe and stable environment for many young people, and the loss of it can cause increased levels of stress
- loss of routine: due to self-isolation, many respondents were unable to take part in day-to-day activities which offered important coping mechanisms for them
- loss of social connections: many of the participants missed being physically close to their friends
The survey also examined the respondent’s ability to access mental health support during self-isolation. More than half of the respondents had received mental health support in the three months prior to the pandemic, and 74% of these young people were still accessing some form of mental health support. However, the level of support they received wasn’t always consistent with that which they had received before the restrictions. For instance, in many cases face-to-face support was cancelled and moved online, which proved less effective. Many respondents stated that they were unable to talk to their therapists honestly or openly because they were afraid their family members might overhear their sessions. Some participants also suggested that rising demand made it harder to contact helplines.
The YoungMinds’s survey also asked participants about their coping mechanisms during the coronavirus crisis. According to their answers, the most useful coping mechanisms were: face-to-face calls with their friends, watching TV/films, exercise, learning new skills, reading, gaming, face-to-face calls with family, spending time with family, and breathing techniques. Social media was mentioned as both a helpful and unhelpful coping mechanism; these sites facilitated contact with their friends, but also became ‘a source of anxiety, especially around the news’. The least helpful coping mechanism was reading or watching the news. Young people want to get information about what is happening, but constantly following the news can cause increased anxiety and feelings of a loss of control.
Finally, respondents were asked ‘what mental health support would be most useful to them at the moment’. The most effective help would be face-to-face therapeutic or emotional support, followed by:
- online and digital support in any format
- self-help techniques and coping strategies (e.g. learning calming techniques),
- general information, guidance and advice (e.g. practical information about COVID-19 and mental health-specific advice)
- advice on how to help others and the importance of friends and family (e.g. one of the respondents said ‘helping others might help me feel more fulfilled and purposeful.’)