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Matt Dady explores the impact of the pandemic on young people’s education and mental wellbeing
Monday 2nd September 2019 started like any other regular fresh, new academic year, with a healthy dose of excitement and apprehension in equal measure. Children and young people across the UK returned to school and education after the summer break. Maybe, like me, going into year 10 and starting GCSEs or going away from home for the first time to university.
However this academic year marked the beginning of an angst-ridden rollercoaster ride in education for all. And little did we know the hard-core challenges which we would face in all areas of our lives for months and even years down the line.
Although young people tend to have milder symptoms of the Covid-19 virus compared to adults, the knock-on effect of the pandemic, with closures, online learning, and lockdowns, continues to take a toll on our emotional wellbeing. Recent statistics reported by Horizon Magazine show a sharp increase in young people suffering from depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
By 20th March 2020, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that all schools and educational institutions in the UK would close. Initially my friends and I were pleased at the thought of having more time away from the classroom. We were under the impression that it was going to be like another summer holiday, just in Spring!
Although we have gone back to near normality, there’s still the constant worry that things could change as rapidly as they did in 2020
Sadly, we had no idea of the hard and dark times that the pandemic was going to bring, or how long we were going to be away from our second home: school. Personally, I remember the sheer excitement both my friends and I had about spending more time at home. But guess what? We were so wrong! We hadn’t realised that we wouldn’t be able to socialise normally – and the rest!
During the next weeks the reality of a global pandemic and the lockdown really hit me hard. Only seeing people virtually through small boxes on my computer screen was difficult and strange. Having to complete endless volumes of work through PowerPoints and worksheets was overwhelming. The restrictions of house arrest, meaning little time to get out from the four corners of my home, felt confining and claustrophobic at times.
A YouGov report shows that over 42% of young people have felt more trapped since March 2020. The same proportion reported feeling more stressed. And 41% felt more scared than they used to.
I know I was one of the luckily ones, going to a great school which was well organised and adapted quickly to remote learning. However, I still felt a constant anxiety about how my academic capabilities were being affected by this disruption to my education.
Keeping to my set routine, taking breaks from my computer screen, and going out for walks, drastically helped my mental health
According to reports by McKinsey and Company, a global government consultant, students who were tested in 2021 were about ten points behind in maths and nine points behind in reading, compared with students from previous years.
It’s now September 2022 and I’m still processing the long-term effects of the pandemic. Although we have gone back to near normality, there’s still the constant worry that things could change as rapidly as they did in 2020.
Personally, I’d never really suffered with anxiety before, except for the obvious worry before an exam, wondering whether I’d revised enough and would be able to achieve the grade I wanted. However, during the pandemic, I experienced a form of anxiety that I’d never felt before. I not only worried about getting ill with Covid but also about how my academic learning might deteriorate.
So many negative thoughts constantly filled my mind. With the lack of social interaction, and extra time to sit, think and worry, it made lockdown a much harder experience than I could have ever imagined.
With time, resilience, determination and support from my family I was able to stop my anxiety taking over. By putting it as a top priority I found many ways to look after my mental health.
I dedicated a time each day where I eliminated all use of my electronic items, forcing me to do something else, like read a book or talk to family
One of the many things I did was set up a structure for each week day. I woke up every day at 8 am and would start work at 9. I tried to keep to the school timetable, having morning and afternoon break-times as well as a set time for lunch (I do admit they were slightly longer than the normal breaks!). I would finish my work for the day at 3:30pm as if I was actually in the school building!
Having a schedule and keeping to my set routine, taking mini breaks from my computer screen, and going out for walks, drastically supported my mental health. It not only gave me a physical break for my eyes but also helped clear my mind, by literally changing my scenery. It allowed me to have a healthy separation between work and relaxation.
I also dedicated a time each day where I eliminated all use of electronic items. This forced me to do something else, like read a book, or talk to my family, or maybe even bake something!
All this not only ensured that I kept fit and healthy, but it also allowed me to keep on top of my studies and social life, which in turn had a positive effect on my mental health. I’m so grateful to all the people around me during these difficult times, as well as the amazing support from my school, JCoSS.
Early this year, in June, I had a really enjoyable and positive opportunity where I discussed the impact of Covid on schools with my amazing sociology teacher in a weekly podcast he hosts. You can listen to it here.