The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on many lives, causing disruption globally. As an 18-year-old student, I would like to share some thoughts on how the pandemic has affected me and other teenagers in a similar position, including the impact on mental health.
The opening weeks of 2020 saw news headlines reporting on the threat of coronavirus and its increasingly concerning, rapid spread in China — although initially this seemed distant from our lives here in the UK.
Feelings of unease a
mongst my peers began in March, when rumours started to spread regarding the potential closure of schools and exams being affected. Gradually, all school celebrations marking the end of our school education, such as prom, were cancelled, which was disappointing in our final year, but of course we understood it was necessary.
It was announced by the government that from Friday 20th March, schools were to be closed for the vast majority of students, except to stay open for ‘those of key workers and for children who are the most vulnerable.’ Although schools closing may not seem that significant, the impact on my peers and I in our final year of school was considerable. The guidance and support that our teachers offered was abruptly taken away.
We became aware that school was so much more than a place of education; it was our support system.
BBC news reported ‘Psychiatrists are warning of a tsunami of mental illness from problems stored up during lockdown,’ including in children resulting from school closure, self-isolation and fear of hospitals.
Moving to online lessons was a peculiar adjustment, and although the modern era of advanced technology has enabled our studies and lessons to continue online, the feeling is very different to being physically in a classroom. The side-jokes and funny glances that we used to share with our friends are no more, and it is much harder to communicate through a screen, as we constantly find ourselves interrupting each other as well as the teacher.
It has also, unfortunately, made it easier for some to simply ‘not attend’ the online lessons, which may be to the detriment of their education, not to mention their mental health as it reduces an opportunity for social interaction during the day.
At present, we are overwhelmed by conflicting reports regarding the safety of reopening schools, especially for years 10 and 12 (that is, children age 14 to 17), as it would benefit them for their upcoming exams next year. Whilst many are keen to return to school to properly progress their education, fears remain about their own and their family’s health, with many suggesting that even if school re-opened, they would choose not to return until the new academic year, if any risk remains.
On the 18th of March, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, announced that ‘all statutory exams in England — SATs, GCSEs and A-levels — will no longer take place this academic year.’
We were stunned.
The exams which we had spent the greater proportion of our lives working and studying towards, and which we were convinced would determine our futures, had been cancelled. I found myself at a loss — was I anxious, upset, confused or thankful? In fact, we probably experienced all of the above in quick succession.
The uncertainty is frightening, including the fact that our A level grades, normally an objective examination assessment, will instead be based on the judgment of our teachers. I have friends who are devastated that they will not get the chance to prove themselves this summer, and are anxious about their chances of moving on to higher education with this new system in place.
The Student Room website carried out an unofficial snap poll involving over 1000 teenagers to find out whether students thought they would be awarded a ‘fair grade this summer’ under the novel system. Sixty-six per cent responded ‘no’ (as of 27th May 2020), suggesting that the majority of teenagers are anxious about the system in place.
How Has the Pandemic Affected Mental Health?
The Academy of Medical Sciences published a ‘Position Paper’ in The Lancet Psychiatry, in which they outlined the results of two surveys, canvassing opinion of over 3000 individuals. They aimed to develop an understanding of the existing state of individuals’ mental health and to set out ‘immediate priorities and longer-term strategies’ to improve general mental health. It was noted that a majority of the responses came from those with pre-existing mental health conditions, with fears that their existing health problems may worsen. Other common concerns included the effects of social isolation, increased anxiety and stress-levels, and financial difficulties resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Young Minds quantified the impact of the pandemic on adolescent mental health, carrying out a survey on 2,111 young people. 83% of those surveyed described their mental health as being either ‘much worse’, or ‘a bit worse’.
Some vulnerable adolescents are struggling even more that others during this difficult time. One of my friends, tragically, had a close relative pass away from the virus. The lockdown has meant that she has had to process this bereavement without members of her extended family.
Another friend, living with a relative with serious health conditions, is having to cope with significantly more stringent restrictions enforced on her family, and for a longer period of time.
Seemingly small things, such as going from seeing friends every day to never at all, has been a difficult adjustment for myself and many others. Whilst social media has had its fair share of criticisms, I must say that it has helped my friends and family a lot during this extraordinary time — allowing me to still be there for those I love, even though I cannot physically be with them. Being able to regularly facetime has helped me stay socially connected and share experiences with others in similar circumstances.
A positive outlook?
These are strange and unprecedented times, and almost everybody has been negatively impacted in some way.
However, I believe that we could still try to find ways to make something positive out of this situation, whether it be taking the opportunity to recognise and develop our own resilience, learning how to better ourselves in some small way, or understanding the impact that we all have on each other’s lives.
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