The pandemic has brought the world to a stop – but it has also accelerated, and in some cases exacerbated, societal problems that were already unfolding.
It’s currently the end of January, and around six million people in Britain have been vaccinated against Coronavirus (at the time of writing). Of this number, about two and a half million are over the age of 80. Given that this virus has a crueller fate for older people, this statistic is what we’d hope and expect to see in any sensible vaccination programme.
But as we edge further away from 2020 and closer to the Spring of 2021, we will face new hurdles – when the older population has been vaccinated against Covid-19, and the younger generation hasn’t, how do we navigate the limbo between lockdown restrictions and normal life? And how do we begin to fight the ever-worsening mental health crisis that’s taken over our lives?
If by mid-February, the Government has protected the top four priority groups they’re hoping to reach – which includes people over the age of 70 – then the threat of Coronavirus will be reduced. But it’s not 100% effective. There are still uncertainties over transmissibility, so it may not be the silver bullet until everyone has been immunised.
Since by and large, the consensus remains that the younger you are, the better your chances of escaping this virus’s clutches. It seems reasonable to say that we do not need the same social distancing measures to protect our younger population. But, while physically, Coronavirus has not had the same effect on this group of people, it has undoubtedly taken a toll on mental wellbeing.
Given this, as we enter this new phase of life, the Government’s attitude towards how the aftermath of Covid-19 is handled will indicate how they view young people and their importance in British society.
Young people and the pandemic
This virus may not affect young people in the same way as it does old. Still, it’s effects should not be underestimated. In a survey carried out in Autumn 2020, 80% of students agreed their mental health had gotten worse since the start of the pandemic, with 87% citing loneliness as a critical factor for the deterioration.
It appears that young people who already suffered from mental health issues now feel they have gotten worse. At the same time, there is an increase in people who previously did not suffer from severe mental health issues dealing with declining wellbeing.
School closures cancelled exams, long periods away from friends and family and record-breaking unemployment levels are the surfaces of this despair. But when you dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent these feelings were lurking even before the pandemic. Indeed, both Brexit and the looming climate catastrophe have left many feeling helpless in the present and pessimistic about the future.
The way forward
To combat the bleak economic forecast and rising unemployment rates, the Government has launched several initiatives to kick-start the economy and compensate for lost education, such as the National Tutoring Programme. But these will do little to re-inspire what’s already been dubbed as the lost generation. If they don’t address the heart of the issue – young people feel that their opinions, values, and freedom have been taken away from them.
There has been a distinct lack of effort from the Government to alleviate this pandemic’s mental suffering. The Prime Minister has reassured us he ‘Knows this is hard’ – but without any action to remedy the pain, how sincere can his condolences be?
It’s one thing to launch schemes which will help the economy. Still, without deeming mental health problems – which are increasing at an alarming rate amongst the young – as important, the Government have not fulfilled their role in protecting the nation. Indeed, a few pamphlets on how to look after yourself seems pitiful in the face of suffering on such a large scale.
We will soon enter a new phase of the pandemic. It’s not social distancing and lockdowns that will protect the younger generation – but a commitment to protecting their wellbeing by safeguarding their education, livelihoods and principles, both now and in the future.