For a long time, the prevalence of mental health issues has been unchanged, a trend that changed with the outbreak of the pandemic. Two years after the start of the pandemic symptoms of anxiety and depression remain higher than pre-covid, especially among young people.
During the pandemic, risk factors that are generally associated with an increased risk of poor mental health, such as financial insecurity and fear increased, while factors known to be protective such as daily routines, social interaction, employment, educational engagement, and access to health services as well as physical exercise fell dramatically. For young people the change in everyday life was highly noticeable as educational institutions across the world closed and in time switched to remote teaching. Educational institutions are crucial not only for children’s and young people’s education and learning, but also for their socio-emotional wellbeing. For many young people, school is the place where they have their major social interaction, physical activities and adult support.
Also, the setback in the global economy, and stagnation and insecurity on the work-market affected newly graduated students and young people in their early careers disproportionally. Combined, the challenges during the pandemic were especially hard for young people and have caused the increase in mental health issues.
Some short facts about the global school-closures:
- As much as two-thirds of an academic year of in-person education has been lost on average worldwide due to school closures. 1.5 billion students in 188 countries were affected by school closures during 2020 and 2021.
- In general, pre-primary education was closed for 55 days, primary education for 78 days, lower secondary for 92 days and upper secondary for 101 days.
- In May 2021 over 40 % of countries had their schools at least partially open, with in-person and distance learning combined, and almost all countries had opened up their tertiary education.
Some short facts about mental health issues:
- Mental health issues worsened significantly among 15-24-year olds between 2020-2021. In many cases the reported occurrence of symptoms of anxiety and depression doubled or more within this age-group.
- In March 2021, 43 % of 18‑29 year‑olds in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety, compared to 10 % of 18‑34 year‑olds in June 2019. Similar patterns are also evident with symptoms of depression.
- The existing gender difference in the prevalence of anxiety and depression, where women are overrepresented, have widened during the pandemic. In the U.S., the gap widened by 66 % between March and April 2020. The gender differences among 15-24-year olds reporting symptoms of depression was 2.5 percentage points in 2018, compared to 15 percentage points (among 18-29-year olds) in 2021.
- More than 75 % of mental health programmes at schools, and over 70 % of public and workplace-based mental health services were closed or disrupted during the pandemic.
A lot of efforts were made during the pandemic to meet the emerging needs among young people. For example, a large amount of health services did shift to remote consultations, and young people are reported to be overrepresented among those calling mental health hotlines, or requiring online mental health services. This is consistent with the disproportionate impact on mental health issues during the pandemic, but might also – to some extent – be a result of young people being more comfortable with that type of technological solutions.
Even before the pandemic, both the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, recommended a whole of society approach to promote, protect and care for mental health. A whole of society approach includes social and financial protection, ensuring widespread availability of mental health and psychosocial support, as well as scaling up access to self-help and supporting community initiatives.
The whole of society approach is especially relevant in order to support young people’s mental health needs, as mental health support needs to be part of a cross-sectoral policy response to tackle the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. During the pandemic it became evident that weakly integrated mental health services were an obstacle in maintaining care and more integrated policies in social welfare, educational institutions and youth services were needed.
The numbers show that there is still a lot to be done and that we all need to work hard to turn the negative trend. At Mentor Foundation USA we are dedicated to supporting young people by our various Mentoring programs. Empowering youth through adult support and guidance, promoting higher education and a healthy living and giving young people the resources they need to make healthy life decisions are factors known to prevent mental health issues – and what we at Mentor Foundation USA work for every day.
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