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Covid-19, young people and inequalities: The emerging picture

A Young Person Co-Researcher and member of our Young People’s Network shares her experiences during the pandemic, being a part of the infographic research process and what the initial data she unearthed tells us about marginalised groups in the time of Covid-19

K.S., member of the Young People’s Network

I’ve been involved in developing an infographic to illustrate how Covid-19 has impacted the mental health of children and young people, and particularly those from marginalised groups. This involved reviewing recent research to unpick the data story of the pandemic and to understand how different groups of young people had been affected in different ways. As a young person, it is very important to me to be raising public awareness about this topic. Upon reviewing the data, whilst a lot of it confirmed what I believe has been going on for myself and my friends, it also captured other things that were beyond the scope of my current experiences. I learnt a lot about different groups of young people, and how Covid-19 has impacted their mental health; whether it be for better or for worse.

     

         The specific task I was set was to look at inequalities. How had Covid-19 impacted different groups of young people? A lot of the data I found highlighted intricacies impacting on mental health but not all of it helped me to unpick inequalities. We had to cut down the data sources. If the research did not have a comparison group, we were unable to include it. Having a comparison group within research is important as we can get a better understanding of any inequalities faced between groups. An example of this is comparing mental health outcomes of LGBTQ+ young people to non-LGBTQ+ young people. We wanted to see if any pre-existing inequalities had changed as a result of Covid-19 or whether these pre-existing inequalities were present regardless of Covid-19.

Covid-19 research and South Asian representation

              Whilst the data picture I found did capture a lot of what is going on, there is definitely room to have stronger conversations about various topics such as race, educational status and gender. We held a workshop with seven young people to discuss the infographic. It was great to highlight where we felt there is scope for future research to potentially spark deeper discussions.

From my own personal experience, the issue of race stuck out to me. As I come from a South Asian background, I do relate to some inequalities faced. One individual in the group touched upon how mental health for a white young person is potentially experienced very differently than a South Asian young person due to important factors that research may not even consider. Issues such as shame, lack of acknowledgement and reputational upkeep are a few of the many factors that should be considered.

A member of the Young People’s network discusses the differences in perception of mental health within different communities in the UK

There is a real gap in the research here that needs to be filled in order to acknowledge these young people. This would be best achieved by actively involving young people from different ethnic backgrounds in the design of research studies, ensuring diversity of perspectives and lived experience shapes future research.

University students were left in the lurch

              Another topic that stuck out to me during the workshop was the gap in research about the mental health impacts of Covid-19 for young students attending higher education such as University.

Whilst I am no longer a student, many of my close friends have been attending university this past year. During the second wave of the pandemic back in October 2020, there was a lot of blame cast upon students as they returned to university. However, during the entirety of the Autumn term, students didn’t have any clarity on whether they would even be able to return home for Christmas. Then suddenly the government gave students a window of time to return home (whilst some were sitting exams) and if they did not return in that window, they would no longer be allowed to. Ultimately, many did not go back to university after the Christmas holidays which left their accommodation, which most had already paid for, unoccupied.

A member of the Young People’s group discusses universities’ responses to the different stages of the pandemic

In addition to this, many students feel that they are about to enter one of the worst job markets with immensely high rates of unemployment. I finished my third year of University back in May 2020, during the first lockdown. The anxiety of the pandemic definitely took a toll on the mental health of both myself and my peers. If I think back to how I felt during that time, I do believe that the events that have occurred since would have inevitably led to poorer mental health outcomes across students. This has not yet been fully captured in the present research. More research is needed here to raise awareness and to provide better support to those who need it.

The pandemic did not affect genders equally

              Another topic raised in our workshop that is important to highlight is that differences in gender in terms of mental health outcomes due to the pandemic are yet to be fully understood. One member of the workshop pointed out that individuals that identify as men or women typically experience differences in their mental health, both in the prevalence of different mental health difficulties but also in the experience of them. There may be need for a gender segregated analysis to fully understand any disparity in mental health outcomes during, and after, Covid-19.

In addition, as a result of the pandemic with many staying at home with their extended families, stereotypical gender roles regarding the traditional men/women differentiation may have been perpetuated within certain households. For example, some women had to take on more additional caring responsibilities than men during the periods when schools were closed. We don’t know how this may affect mental health in the long term. I was raised by my father in a single parent household and I can only imagine the potential effects the pandemic might have had on his mental health had I been of school age. There needs to be more research on single parent households too.

A member of the group discusses the impacts of the pandemic on those who identify as men or women

Where to next?

              It is impossible to recognise the entire impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health using a few statistics. Findings are still emerging, and we know first-hand narrative data will also be vital. The pandemic is ongoing, with new developments and restrictions being publicised in the media every day that may have an effect on mental health outcomes. Recent research has found that many young people experienced the most recent lockdown in 2021 as harder to cope with than the first lockdown, and we must remain vigilant as we move forward into more potentially unchartered territory.  

It is important for the perspectives of young people to be a key part of post-Covid-19 planning as the impacts are far reaching on our lives. I hope that diverse samples of young people continue to be represented within the dialogue and that we are offered the chance to share our experiences of the impacts of the pandemic.


To read the Health Foundation’s associated infographic, click here.

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