Mental health problems hit just as Covid generation gets started
By Emma Pirnay
Léa, a 24-year-old law graduate from the University of Luxembourg, recalls the day when life as she knew it was put on hold. As for many of her peers across the country, schools and university campuses closed on a day’s notice.
The shut-down provoked a deep feeling of social isolation and Léa has not adapted to remote learning in the year since, she said: “The confinement, lack of social contact, pandemic fears and uncertainty about the future caused me a lot of stress and a period of depression.”
The past year has upended young people’s lives with feelings of isolation, fears about the future, a loss of control, remote learning frustrations and rising unemployment. More than a third of young people in Luxembourg reported a decline in their mental health last year, according to national data.
The Kanner-Jugendtelefon, the crisis helpline for Luxembourgish youth, saw more people than usual getting in touch during the pandemic. The helpline's contacts by people expressing suicidal thoughts doubled, psychologist Aline Hartz said. Calls were also described as more intense than previous years, suggesting that the pandemic has amplified problems that may have seemed easier to cope with before the plague struck.
“Young people have less experience in stress management, especially in times of crisis. Unlike older generations, they can’t rely on their past experiences for guidance”, Hartz said. The crisis line noted a rise in calls for domestic violence, cyberbullying, drug addiction and sexual assault.
This is reflective of the fact that teenagers were far from their support networks of peers during lockdown, Hartz said. And those with pre-existing conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may have experienced worse symptoms.
According to Hartz, the primary cause for anxiety during the pandemic was due to “the situation being uncertain, constantly fluctuating and uncontrollable”.
For what has been coined “the Covid generation”-- people currently in their teens and early twenties -- there’s a sense of grief over a life that could have been but which they feel has been brought to a standstill.
“There’s talk of time that has been stolen, time that has been lost. Some tell me they feel they’ve reached a dead end”, Hartz said.
In a lot of ways, the pandemic has robbed teenagers and young adults of formative life experiences. With many internships, extracurricular activities and work experience cancelled, some feel unprepared to enter the post-pandemic world. Olivia, a 16-year-old student, thinks the pandemic may have longer-term effects on how young people socialise in the future. “I know that some of my friends who had to stay home, even after restrictions were lifted, feel really anxious socialising now”, she said.
Elza, a 23-year-old student and part-time tutor, is among those who feel being forced into online study has hurt their education.
“I'm afraid I won’t pass my first year. My first semester was very new for me, as almost all classes were online. This meant that I didn't take them seriously and failed a lot of exams, so that's been a really negative impact”, Elza said.
Most people interviewed for this story agreed that having some daily structure in their lives, like taking the time to leave the house and socialise, was particularly helpful. For Léa, reducing time spent online and on social media was effective in limiting the feeling of being overwhelmed. Those who spoke to Luxembourg Times also appreciated the the Luxembourgish government's decision to re-open terraces, museums, cultural venues and cinemas.
To destigmatise the topic of mental health issues and to encourage young people to talk about their problems, the Education Ministry launched the Youth Mental Health Campaign in collaboration.
The COVID-19 hotline (8002 8080 or +352 49 77 1 9200 from abroad) set up by the Ministry of Health (Ministère de la Santé) offers psychological support in several languages from Monday to Friday, from 8:00 to 16:00 hrs.
The Kanner-Jugendtelefon hotline can be reached anonymously online or through their 116 111 number.