Youth in the Pandemic World: Physically Strong, but Psychologically Vulnerable

Young man wearing a COVID facemask.

While older people are at the most significant risk of acquiring COVID-19, it is younger people who are more prone to the emotional side effects of living in a state of restrictions during the pandemic. (Image: via Pixabay)

Except for China, most nations of the world have relaxed pandemic restrictions; however, the landscape of a post-pandemic world is still far from perfect. The disparity between the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic worlds is significant because the painful narratives and what they had left behind will likely take a lifetime before being forgotten. 

While older people are at the most significant risk of acquiring COVID-19, it is younger people who are more prone to the emotional side effects of living in a state of restrictions during the pandemic. Younger generations carry a heavy weight on their shoulders from living through a “pandemic world.” They may be forced to push forward with their lives while being burdened emotionally by what seems to be a permanent crisis.

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Young man in the pandemic world.
Younger generations carry a heavy weight on their shoulders from living through a ‘pandemic world.’ (Image: Indiegogo via Dreamstime)

Depression and anxiety in youth during the pandemic 

According to the University of British Colombia (UBC) research published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, adults aged 60 and up have fared better emotionally than younger adults (18-39) and middle-aged adults (40-59) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people who are less likely to get ill from COVID-19 are more likely to be emotionally impacted by the pandemic.

“Our findings provide new evidence that older adults are emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability. We also found that younger adults are at greater risk for loneliness and psychological distress during the pandemic,” says Patrick Klaiber, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC Department of Psychology.

The study results were affirmed by the data collected from a COVID-19 social study run by the University of London. The study revealed a striking increase in depression and anxiety symptoms over Christmas 2021 in the UK, in time with the rise of the Omicron variant. This was especially evident among younger people.

The Guardian interviewed hundreds of 16 to 25-year-old Generation Zs from 30 countries in Europe to gauge their attitudes regarding pandemic policies. The survey revealed that COVOD-19 policies risk leaving psychological and socioeconomic scars on millions of young people across Europe, with far-reaching consequences for them and society.

“Our entire generation has been pushed aside as a problem to be dealt with later,” said a 17-year-old from the north of England.  From Germany, a 21-year-old wrote: “We are the lowest priority.” And in France, a 21-year-old said he counted himself part of “a sacrificed generation”.

Many of these young people expressed their fear of their future and blamed their governments for failing them as months of repeated lockdowns disrupted their mental health, schooling, and employment prospects.

Two children wearing COVID masks.
The detrimental effects of the global pandemic crisis on the youth are not just a discussion for today but a concern for the future. (Image: Oksana Zhigulenkova via Dreamstime)

The adverse effects of pandemic living may be long term

The detrimental effects of the global pandemic crisis on the youth are not just a discussion for today but a concern for the future. The level of despair and rage showed in the responses from the University of British Colombia and University of London studies has initiated a call to the world that it cannot continue to nurse the physically-vulnerable population while turning a blind eye to those most vulnerable to the long-term impact of the virus on mental health. 

A call to prioritize the mental well-being of the youth 

The ability of young people to foster work relations, demonstrate productivity and life-work balance, communicate effectively, challenge changes, respond to adversities, and create and innovate changes will lag behind their predecessors.

Researchers now talk about how different human capital will be in the future compared to the past. Even as the pandemic winds down, the psychological remains of this crisis are here to stay. Young people, most especially, will still have to navigate the future in a crisis-oriented default. 

It is not enough to bring children back to school and social and recreational opportunities. A long-term dedicated support system for the young people’s well-being will be required to address the psychological impacts of the virus. Governments at all levels must reconfigure a response to repair the mental welfare of this otherwise physically-strong population. 

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