On the 23rd march 2022, Boris Johnson, announced the first of 3 covid lockdowns, to help reduce the transmission of the covid-19 virus. The UK spent a total of 6 months in lockdown, but a whole year under some form of restriction with the rules constantly changing. This turbulent year with our work and social lives being disrupted frequently led to lots of anxiety and distress in the population. Isolation from loved ones, jobs, hobbies and being stuck inside our homes was something completely unimaginable.
Young people are in a mental health crisis. 1 in 6 5-16 year olds have a probable mental health problem and in 2019-18 24% of 17 yr olds reported self harming. These damning statistics are from before the pandemic and worryingly 83% of young people with mental health issues said that the pandemic had made them worse.
Our world in lockdown
During the pandemic, people realised the potential that nature has to support our mental health, with more than 40% of people saying nature had become more important to their wellbeing since lockdown.
But during the pandemic access to nature wasn’t something everyone could share, with 1 in 10 households not having access to a private garden, but in London this is 1 in 5. This limited access to the outdoors shows us how inequality can have a big impact on our mental health.
The pandemic caused massive anxiety about job security and young people were massively affected, when returning to work after the country reopened 1/3 of 18-34 yr olds were in insecure, zero hour roles. The insecurity and anxiety that people felt throughout lockdown, trapped in flats or houses, glued to our phones, laptops and televisions was made worse as celebrities, like Ellen Degeneres, trivialised our struggles by comparing lockdown, in a multi million pound mansion, to being in jail. This insensitivity, stars crying on camera from houses with home cinemas, swimming pools, Jacuzzis and tennis courts only adds to the struggle as those with not much felt the pain of lockdown from high-rise flats and areas without green spaces.
The new normality of lockdown restrictions led people to preach and to believe that the world would never be the same, we’d lose the commute to work, schools would continue to teach online and we’d all benefit from our rekindled relationship with nature, but now we’re out the social distancing stickers are fading and we seem to be back in a world that is very similar, if not identical, to the one we started in. Has the focus on mental health that lockdown created continued or are we back where we started?
Where we were
Before the pandemic we’d only just started to realise the gravity of the situation in regards to mental health. As a society we started to talk about it more, urging men to talk about their feelings instead of bottling them up as we fought a pandemic of suicide. The impact of social media on the well-being of children was widely debated as we searched for solutions to the mental health crisis amongst young people. After years of Tory austerity the nhs and its services were plundered of cash and resources across all departments and were stretched and this only became worse during the pandemic.
The looming mental health crisis that the pandemic was creating was referred to as the ‘second pandemic’ and it soon became clear that lockdown has had a devastating impact on the populations mental health. In 2021 psychiatrists saw a 24% surge in referrals and on top of the 1.5 million people who were receiving mental health support in 2021 there were more than double on waiting lists. The loneliness and isolation from our lives had a real impact and it felt like the government had listened to the problem as they promised an extra 2.3bn pounds to improve mental health services across the country. The prime minister even appointed “Dr Alex”, a love island star, as youth mental health ambassador in february 2021, with him to play an important role in shaping children’s mental health education and support in school. The NHS backlog has increased across so many services and with staff striking the general health of the country seems in a dire state, has anything started to improve ? Or are we all still suffering, with the mental health of the nation bound to get worse.
Have things changed?
Post covid the world doesn’t seem to be improving and for young people so many things are anxiety inducing. The war in ukraine and the fear of an expansion into a global conflict, the cost of living crisis, with food prices and bills skyrocketing and the possibility of young people ever owning their own home seeming ever more impossible. On top of all these domestic concerns there is the coming effects of climate change, destroying our planet, and feeling helpless to make any difference in the world.
The real problem seems to stem from inequality and the fear of the world that is to come. With the rich getting richer and the rest of us having to do more with the little we have, it seems likely the problem will continue to grow. Rent prices will rise, food and fuel will become more expensive and the uncertainty for all our futures will continue to worry us. Services are promised more funding and schools talk of offering more support but students in all levels of education continue to struggle and covid and the state of the world continue to make things worse.