Australia has been through a lot this year. In some cases like South West Sydney, young people have experienced not just Covid but fires, smoke & floods all in 18 months with many students moving homes. Which begs the question, what are the impacts of covid-19 and how has its isolation affected young people in Australia?
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which interviewed nearly 3,000 students, they found the following top 5 issues regarding Covid.
- Mental health concerns resulting from COVID-19
- Social isolation
- Education impacts
- Impacts on family life
- Changes to plans and usual activities.
Mission Australia found similar results but in a slightly different order. With Education, then mental health covid related such as isolation coming in 3rd. As a result of these covid issues, an increase in 5 significant areas has happened.
Education is an interesting one as I’ve asked ten schools about how covid has affected their students. 8 said half of their students are doing better and half worse. One school said they had operated better online, and one said a lot worse overall. So overall, it seems there are equal viewpoints of at-home learning. Education aside, I want to go through the top 5 effects of covid on our youth and what we can do to help.
Increase Drugs & Alcohol
TheConversation.com interviewed over 740 people aged between 13-18. Overall, just over 18% of the respondents had been exposed to bushfires over the past year. The same percentage had been exposed to drought in that period, and more than 83% were exposed to bushfire smoke.
They found people with direct exposure to the bushfires reported significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety, and more drug and alcohol use, than those not directly exposed.
According to my surveys, the four biggest reasons young people overuse drugs or Alcohol is;
- Peer pressure
- Wanting to feel good
- Escaping pain
People, whether young or old, always have reasons for everything we do. When we break these reasons down, it becomes clear why we see an increase. Young people isolated at home and unable to go outside and socialise will feel more bored than ever.
Four Ways To Help
If the experience is traumatic, using drugs or alcohol can become very appealing or a real solution to those wanting to escape pain or stress at the moment. If you have a young person or are a young person, look for ways to fulfil these needs in other ways.
Brainstorm when you are in a good state of mind all the things you like to do. I have a list of 15; walking, watching movies, video games, calling friends, learning something new on youtube or signing up for a course. The best way to defeat boredom is to have a list of things to do pre-prepared.
- Wanting to feel good
See out in the sun. Exercise & get fresh air.
- Escape Pain
This is hard and requires more effort depending on the level of pain you’re experiencing. Writing feelings down can really help. If it’s a lot, talking to friends or family members. If it’s unbearable, speaking to Kids-Line or a counsellor is the best course of action. The Australian government has essential services and countless mental health services of which I’ll list below.
- Genuine Connection.
Learn how to connect with people. To learn more about how Addiction can be cured through connection, check out Addiction on youtube.
Increase in Depression & Anxiety
Depression & Anxiety are overwhelming feelings that are often associated with feeling out of control. A very real reaction to these times. TheConversation.com survey showed an increase in both, and there could be numerous reasons behind this.
Physiology today stated regardless of Covid, there are five practices we can do to increase our resilience and overall mental health from a physical standpoint. They are;
- Eating Routine
- Sleeping Routine
- Workout Routine
- Time with Friends & Family
Having set meals and times to eat allows the body clock to know when you’re going to eat and has been proven to absorb more nutrients out of the meals. Eating smaller and more regular meals has also been proven to give more energy throughout the day vs having more extreme highs and lows.
School is excellent for routines. Young people have breakfast then go to school. There they have a set morning-tea and lunchtime where they are with friends and eat at those times. They usually get back home to have something small, then dinner later. By the end of the day, the average Australian student has had around five smaller meals.
However, covid and studying from home have led to many students missing out on this routine. Many students told me they forget to eat breakfast & sometimes even lunch. If you’re working from home, try to have similar meals regularly and set times for eating. Set the alarm if you have to. Even though our office is currently working from home, we all have a set time (12-1 pm) for lunch.
For more health information on this, check out Food & Mood.
If you are looking at changing your diet during this time, try including Vitamin C and Vitamin D + Calcium tablets. They have been proven to help prevent covid or try having an orange a day.
The impact of the pandemic has caused a lot of routines to go unchecked. Not going outside as much and moving has caused people to be less tired at night time and staying up later.
This has also been linked to using our computers and phones more, and the blue light is coursing us to wind down slower.
According to Harvey University, Sleep has a direct link to both coursing depression and Anxiety and being a result of depression and anxiety. “Lifestyle changes” is one of the significant courses of not sleeping well.
To help get to sleep faster, having a better sleep try the following:
I have a $10 plug timer on my lights at home. At 9.30 pm the lights go out. I try to be in bed every night at 10 pm. This gives me a 30min window of winding down and has helped a lot.
2. No technology at night.
We have all heard of blue light and how screens mimic sunlight’s effects, making our body feel like it should be awake. I use Red-light from 8.30 pm onwards & put my phone on flight-mode from the same time.
The body is meant to be at around temperature from foot to head. A shower 1 hour before bed allows the body to reach this temperature faster, meaning once you get in bed, it doesn’t have to spend energy warning you up before you fall asleep. Also, any routine you do (like a shower) reinforces to the body its bedtime.
The covid-19 Pandemic has shut down a lot of schools and cancelled a lot of sport. Gyms have closed and opened and closed again, and countless students have stopped sport and exercise altogether.
Exercise is so important has its been proven to;
- Release endorphins, which make us feel good.
- Give us more physical energy, which has proven to link to good mental health
- Usually requires going outside, breathing in fresh air & being in the sun. All of which has been linked to sleeping better at night.
If your young person is used to working out or playing sports, you can do some things to keep up this vital routine.
- Use the park. During covid even when schools were closed and sports teams the local parks were still open. Going through the ball around with family members or just going for a walk or running 3-4 times a week helps.
- Home Equipment. If they are used to going to the gym, think about buying some essential equipment for home. A skipping rope, ball or small weights and youtube workouts is all they need but may need some encouragement to get into it. Perhaps a weekly allowance if all homework is completed and they can show you they work out three times a week?
- Standing desk. Working out is excellent. However, one of the worst things for us in the 21st century is sitting down for too long—something most of us are doing during Covid. I was in isolation when going to NZ for two weeks, and it took me four weeks to get over. Moving and sanding is something the body needs. Consider investing in a stand-up or electric standing desk. Some standing desk even has timers forcing you to be healthier.
Sunlight is proven to help us relax, create D, which is the best deference against covid and create serotonin which is proven to reduce depression and regulate Anxiety. The benefits of countless but in saying that are 5 top ways the sun affects your mental health.
We get told to not spend too much time in the sun due to cancer scars, however as a result we have a country that is over 23% vitamin D deficient. That was before Covid. Currently, this is over 31% and much higher during isolation.
How to get your vitamin D?
> Sun. Fair-skinned people should walk in the sun 6-7 mins with as much skin exposed. In Winter, this should be from 7-40mins. Most days.
> Take Vitamin D + Calcium tablets
Time with Friends & Family
The spread of covid-19 has affected our time with friends and family more than any other time in the past 50 years.
Social connection has been proven to be both the primary determining factor to happiness and resilience, the ability to get through hard times in a positive way. Eating together has even been proven to help switch our body from ‘fight or flight mode’ to ‘rest and repair’, allowing our bodies to absorb foods better. If you are isolated, try different ways of connecting.
- Try FaceTime or Zoom instead of just calling people. My friends and I have done full movie nights while having nine people on Zoom. HouseParty is an app that came out during Covid just for this. Netflix also brought out the Netflix Party.
- If your playing video games, make sure you get a mic so you can hear your friends
- Participate in group talks anonymously with Headspace.
Depression and Anxiety can be very complicated topics. For some, we don’t produce the chemicals needed to fight off these strong emotions. For others, we need good routines, and for others again, we need to learn good physiology and often all those in between.
Hope for the future
TheConversation.com found a direct link between how climate change and how young people feel about the future. A lot of these young people have seen fires and floods and feel like they could happen again.
From a youth workers perspective, a key to helping young people get through stress and Anxiety is to feel hopeful about the future and become an ‘agent of change’. They are using negative energy towards solutions.
This is what a lot of young people have done. In fact, we have seen a large increase in young Australia’s volunteering. According to the University of Melbourne, they interviewed 500 young people between 15-25. 1/3 had done volunteer work in the last 3months.
At the moment we don’t not what the long term effects of covid and its relating issues may be. However, I’m hopeful that the pandemic will create more empathy and connect us further.
Increase in Bullying & Image-Based Abuse
With more time online than ever before & stress, there was no doubt cyberbullying would increase. In some states around Australia, bullying and image-based abuse have increased by over 150%, according to eSafety. This is largely due to covid-19. I have an article about how to get through bullying and to cyberbully here.
Loss of jobs
Australian young people have been disproportionately affected in comparison to other age groups. Youth employment has been affected by covid-19 and was at an all-time low which has affected not just the income of young people but also the social connections.
According to the University of Melbourne, they interviewed 500 young people between 15-25.
- 80% of their 15-24 are working while studying.
- 1/3 Lost their job due to covid and/or can’t find opportunities.
- 1/3 of those out of high school moved home due to financial difficulty
Resilience study shows to be really grounded as a young person, we need three solid connections (like a stool). These are Family (home), school and their sport and Job. Many young people have lost their job is more than just money, but the social connection. This can be really hard and needs to be filled with something else. I would recommend trying to find another job – or learning a new skill online in the same time slot.
Australia has been through some really hard times in regional areas and throughout the states and territories. From covid to fires, smokes and floods. However, overall they have done well in comparison to the USA or UK studies. I believe young people here are resilient, and together, these hard times will make stronger people.
Something that can help is speaking to students one to one and asking if they are okay. UK studies said less than 23% of students were asked how they were doing over 12 months. There’s no research in Australia on this but I’m assuming it is higher.
Other than that is hiring a speaker to come into the school and address the issues brought on by covid. List the solutions and the message in hope. How about you? What has been your experience? Are you a student or parent of a young person? What did you do that helped? Or let me know if this article helped 🙂