Young people and COVID-19: Mental health stories
Our readers share their thoughts and experiences on life in lockdown and how it has impacted on their mental health
Recently, we ask our readers to share their experiences of life in lockdown. Young people’s lives have been turned upside down during this crisis, with schools and colleges closing, and many young people losing jobs. As part of a project with the Irish Examiner, we wanted to highlight these stories and give a voice to young people in Ireland learning to cope in this new situation.
Below, you can read what our readers have to say about their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic
Young people share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic
Maisie, 17, Mayo
My experience with COVID-19 over the past few weeks has been quite challenging. I’ve got the added pressure of being a Leaving Cert which has taken a toll on my mental health. This effect on my mental health is amplified by the separation I’m feeling from my friends and family. From the very beginning I have taken social distancing very seriously and it’s difficult, being away from most of the people I love. I understand it’s for the best but it doesn’t make it any easier really. The depth of this impact has brought me to a headspace that I was in only once before, when I was grieving the passing of a close loved one. That was scary for me. To wake up and feel like I was back in that hole of depression is scary. I’m very lucky however, that over the past couple of years I have developed efficient coping skills and I have built up a network of outstandingly supportive friends through SpunOut.ie's Action Panels. We have group video call check ins regularly and they’re always there for me to lean on. Coming to terms with the separation from society was the hardest part for me but we have to remember it’s just another one of life’s many twists and turns. We can make it through this with support from our friends and brilliant services such as SpunOut.ie's text line, Samaritans, Jigsaw and so many more. I have used these a few times over the weeks and it has been greatly reassuring knowing there is support out there for us all in this unparalleled situation we are facing.
Jaime, 20 Kildare
I feel like lockdown has really made my anxiety and depression far worse. Even with a lot of exercise and doing things I enjoy, life feels very hard at the moment. I think the government needs to think more about the mental health impact this virus is having on all of us and needs to put the measures in place to help people cope. I find online learning very difficult, as do many of my college peers. Its very hard to motivate yourself to listen to online lectures on a zoom call and to do the work without a college learning environment.
Emma, 16, Donegal
I live in the isolated countryside of Donegal, which in itself is lonely on a day to day basis, never mind a lockdown! I’ve been self isolating since we were let out of school six weeks ago. However my mental health has 100% been suffering. Usually I’m a really outgoing person who’s never really sat in the house, but when it came to lockdown, my freedom just crumbled around me. I suffer with my mental health, and due to the virus, I can no longer attend counselling which is really hard on me. It’s really not easy to get out of bed most mornings. I tend to keep myself busy with reading, running, staring at the ceiling, wishing I could see my boyfriend - the everyday things! I tend to keep my spirits up with my attitude of ‘my situation could be so much worse’ and to be grateful for all the blessings. I'm lucky to have such good people I can count on when this whole horrible nightmare is over! In conclusion, I really didn’t know how much freedom I had until it was taken away from me and when lockdown is over, I will definitely be more appreciative of everything I have and can do!
Jade, 17, Westmeath
My experience so far with living a life in a pandemic has been strange and difficult to say the least. At the beginning of this lockdown I had it in my head that it would only be for a few days or even weeks. Never did I think it would last months and have such bad effects on our economy. It has also taken so many people's lives and the most devastating part of losing lives is their families can’t say goodbye. I’m not going to lie but COVID-19 has scared me and made me see life in a different picture. It’s also had a bigger impact on my mental health. I found I’m having way more down days and waking up I feel all the days are just becoming one. Not being able to see family when you're like that makes me feel a million times worse and now everything is online it’s like we don’t have a life anymore. My hopes is that life will go back to normal but quite frankly is there even a normal anymore? I hope everyone can get though this together but only time will tell.
Jessica, 21, Dublin
Most days, I am able to process whatever comes my way, but now that I am nearing the end of my college education, I have discovered that my mental health is suffering more due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. I find myself mourning over the lost experiences that I should’ve been having in my final days as a student. I feel I am grieving this former life that has been stripped from me. It is difficult to keep motivated when I’m studying at home, because the future is foggy and there’s no immediate goal in sight. However, I’ve developed healthy skills to help cope within the chaos. The most important coping mechanism that I’m using is showing gratitude for the small things. By appreciating the little victories day-to-day, it allows for me to see the value in all of the good things in my life and builds a positive mindset. I don’t think that writing a long to-do list is the best way to handle this scenario because it’s overwhelming and is often unrealistic. Instead, I just set out one practical task for the day, such as walking ten thousand steps or cooking dinner for my family. I feel that during this time I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be okay and that talking to others can really help clear negative thoughts out. Having open discussions can form a sense of clarity and unity with others, which is a special bond to share during this time of universal crisis.
Katie, 20, Monaghan
I've been finding lockdown hard. I was in my final year of my social work degree, and now we've been fast-tracked to support the health services. I'm working full-time now, about two months earlier than we were expected to start. This job is emotionally difficult at the best of times, but with the current crisis, it's even more challenging. When I'm not at work, I'm self-isolating alone in my student flat. It was particularly difficult the first few weeks, being separated for the foreseeable future from my family and friends. When the crisis and lockdown began, it felt like my whole life had been torn away from me. I think I'm adjusting better now, and I've developed a good routine of keeping in touch with the people who are important to me! I think I've learned a lot from this, and I've begun to recognise what really matters in life. It's not the expensive stuff, top grades or lots of money that gets you through lockdown. It's the happy memories of friends, family and good experiences!
Cole, 21, Living outside of Ireland
The biggest struggle for me has become the loneliness. I've just come out of medical training in the military. Spending months with the same group of people, sharing four man dorms and going to the gym every evening. I was also lucky enough to see my girlfriend most weekends, which meant exploring London a lot. Now I go back to my single room every evening after work and watch Netflix. I try to get a workout done every evening but the motivation is more difficult to find. I call home a lot and look at flights on Ryanair, hoping I get to see them all soon.
Leanne, 20, Cork
I was surprised by how the pandemic has made me feel. I think I expected to feel scared, but instead I feel bored. An insatiable kind of bored where you get stuck in a constant loop of monotony and you feel like your brain has turned to liquid in your head and you feel like there's no meaning anymore, no point. For older people, I think they worry a lot about getting sick, but for younger people, we're worried about our mental health, and the impact that a loss of routine can have. We're fortunate that most of us don't have to worry about becoming seriously ill, but from my own experience and from talking to my peers, this has had a major impact on young people's happiness and sense of self worth. It feels like being a teenager on their summer holidays who's been grounded by their parents, which for many people this age feels like a huge step backwards when we've only just learned how to he independent. For people who have had issues with mental health before, this is an eerily familiar place to be, staying at home all day wringing our hands and feeling unproductive and stagnant, and that can be really difficult for people to revisit. The world feels really unstable right now and I think we're just trying really hard to keep our balance.
Holly, 21, Dublin
At this point it feels like the government in all aspects are prioritising physical heath over mental health, I suffer majorly with multiple different mental health issues and because of a housing crisis I’m still living at home with no escape and no place to call my own. It’s got to a point where I’m in my own head way to much with no escape. Being stuck like this, on house arrest, with no crime committed, will cause more harm to my health than the virus could. The long term effects this will have on my mental heath will effect me for my whole life and there is nothing being done about that.
Anke, 23, Dublin
As a young person working in a hospital, I have found the last few weeks very challenging on my mental health due to the government restrictions which are in place. Due to these restrictions to curb the outbreak of COVID-19 I have had to change the way I communicate and seek support from friends and family. I have never been so grateful for technology! Not only is it allowing me to stay in contact with loved ones but it is also allowing me to do some of my work from home and hence limit the face to face contact I have with colleagues and service users I work with. In addition to changing my methods of communication, I have also adapted my routine so that I can still do the things I enjoy (which is so important especially at the moment!) In the evenings, I have started doing at home workouts and going for walks instead of going to the gym. I have started journaling, reading self help books and knitting. I have also maintained some aspects of my routine such as having a regular wake and sleep time, getting dressed every morning and eating a balanced diet. These are just a few ways I have been coping with the increased stress and low mood I have been experiencing. I have been taking each day as it comes and have been trying to have a balanced day where I am productive, have time for self care and also do leisure activities that I find enjoyable. I hope you are all able to do the same during these challenging times.
Scott, 17, Dublin
So the last six weeks have felt like four months to me. Not being able to go further than two kilometres with the fears of authority abusing power as they have to many of my friends, the uncertainty of the future of my education and general anxiety over how our Taoiseach and Minister for Health are addressing the pandemic in this country. I find it quite difficult to concentrate, whether it be studying or maintaining my mental health. The so called "clarity" the higher ups have given us has ended up becoming what worries me the most. Secondary school students around the country are missing out on valuable, physical class time and its upsetting. It is understandable that the front line staff and scientists are doing their best and hardest job to help flatten the curve but all that is shown is the negatives in the media. All I want is for some proper, genuine clarity without fears that are attached to this pandemic.
Grainne, 16, Wexford
It's hard for us all, I miss my friends, my school and my old, normal life. I do the shopping for my family as I'm living with my dad and my granny who both have underlying conditions. I don't get to see my mum as much as she's working in the civil service. Social media has really been a bit of a lifeline for me. If i wasn't able to talk to my friends everyday I'd be in bits. The only thing is that there's nothing to talk about - no juicy gossip about our classmates, no plans to go out for the night. It's really boring but at least it's in line with the social distancing guidelines. People in the supermarket look down on me a bit because I'm a teenager. They think I'm out to see my friends when I'm actually here to get bread, milk, the paper for Dad and the Ireland's Own for Gran. I would definitely say I'm scared. What if life doesn't go back to normal? What if we are stuck social distancing forever? Or worst of all, what if I brought the virus back to my family and they got sick? It's a constant state of anxiety, but what can we do but all try our best so we can prevent the spread, flatten the curve, protect our loved ones and end the lockdown as soon as possible. I'm also upset about missing so much school. As I'm in fifth year I'm worried about missing out on important content, especially as its hard to stay motivated at home. However, the teachers have been great and we are trying our best. I'm also worried about my friends in sixth year, and the worry they are having over the Leaving Cert. However I do think we are coming together through this, and I suppose we will just have to wait until it's all over. I just can't wait to see my friends again and go back to school. To go shopping and to go out for the night. To go back to normal.
Angela, 17, Dublin
This was meant to be a new life with new and unforgettable experiences/memories. Now, I have this great sense of loss. My graduation and debs. Gone! Honestly it’s such a surreal experience, I still don’t believe it’s happening. The days are beginning to blend together, it’s very monotonous. It’s hard to maintain a positive mindset about the Leaving Certificate with all the uncertainty. Online school feels like an option at this point. I was unable to finish my practical work and around the time of writing this, they say it’s getting graded as is. It’s selfish of me to go on about how much this lockdown is affecting me when people are ill and dying but I am confused about my future and college no longer looks like an option. We are all aware it’s an extremely unfortunate situation with the Leaving Certificate but there are people living in abusive homes, hostels and other less than ideal environments to study efficiently. My heart goes out to them. Anyways I hope everyone is staying safe and self isolating:)) P.S I also feel that the board of education’s promise to ensure we have two weeks of school before the Leaving Certificate shows a lack of empathy because I’m am almost certain that they are aware that online school is not as efficient as we hoped and the remainder of the course won’t be done in the two weeks of provided time.
Caoimhe, 16, Tipperary
For the health of Ireland I’ve stayed in my house for over two months. The most challenging aspect of staying in my house has been the toll on my mental health with nothing to distract my ever wandering thoughts I feel my brain drift off to dark places. The loss of a daily schedule has opened up a gaping hole I never really knew was there. The touch and contact of other people in my life is quite a thing even though I’m not a touchy person all I wanna do is hug and hold everyone close to me, regardless of if we have hugged before. The distance itself has made it harder to communicate to my friends and others. It’s quite hard to talk when the world around is empty, filled with a daily amount of worthless hours that don’t mean anything. Talking seems so worthless with the lack of physical contact, or when the promise of physical contact is not there. The never ending spiral of events as the news lights up my phone constantly reminding me of the horrific events happening just outside my door. But I can’t turn it off because then I feel selfish and that I should be listening to the very lives that are being ruined everyday. In other words my quarantine has been going just the way I expected.