Effects of Covid-19 in young people’s lives #10 / By Vongai Mazorodze
Never did it occur to me that because of a pandemic, the whole globe would be on lockdown and we would have to stay indoors indefinitely.
Covid-19 came as a blow which many of us did not see coming, or prepared for. The youthful ages are times where we discover ourselves by exploring various activities, interact with different people and, most importantly – prepare for our futures. We, especially, were not mentally prepared as we plunged into the ‘lockdowns’ and social distancing rules, without any idea of what the effects would be, or how long it would last. Everything changed, from the economy, employment, interactions, to our ways of life. The majority of young people were left with only their families to physically interact with, and some in apartments, living either alone or with housemates. Interactions with peers were left to mobile devices and social media.
There is a vast difference between being alone for self-discovery or self-improvement purposes versus feeling completely isolated. The imposed social distancing rules have brought about feelings of increased loneliness and isolation. These are conditions which allow depression to thrive, because young people generally go through a range of emotions such as feeling worthless or excessively guilty for past mistakes, insomnia, anger, irritability, overthinking, feeling uneasy or unsure of the future and feeling hopeless – the list is endless and this unfortunately may result in suicidal thoughts or ultimately, suicide.
Another negative mental impact on young people by this pandemic is linked with the environment they are in. Most young people live in homes or in environments that do not allow for them to feel free or happy, due to factors like lack of support or repetitive criticism. With the nation being instructed to stay at home, young people are left entrapped with people they are eager to escape from, be it family or roommates (with challenging family or roommate relationships), and as a result cannot be who they fully are. In a world where they used to turn to a safe space such as a youth club, but now are forced to deal with their feelings and emotions at home, young people’s mental health continues to be affected negatively.
With interactions between friends and the outside world left to mobile devices and social media, there is an increased social media pressure and overuse. No one wants to feel left out on what’s trending on social media or which social platforms or apps are ‘in’, hence we feel the urge to sign up or join these platforms, even if we wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. Especially since almost everyone is bored and desperately needs activities to occupy themselves, we are left plunging into
the streets of social media, which naturally is considered unhealthy both mentally and physically by health experts.
The use of social media has been shown to correlate with feelings of loneliness, negative body image, anxiety, and lower levels of self-esteem. This is a recipe for disaster especially since most young people already feel lonely and unsure of their education/work futures because of the restrictions placed and the uncertainties around the virus. This pandemic has increased the risk and reality of most young people being clinically depressed.
Another effect produced by staying at home is the physical, sexual, domestic and emotional abuse that young people face from the people they are housed with. Aggressive or repeated shouting, unreasonable physical force, personal physical boundaries being crossed and even rape are some of the different forms of abuse young people face from their housemates or even families. It is a sad reality that has arisen and leaving the youth with a cry for help.
There is also a high risk of the youth being involved with drug and substance abuse, with boredom and stresses acting as a catalyst for such engagement.
Most young people had small businesses or side hustles that they ran, such as merchandising or even part time jobs alongside going to school. These have been greatly affected, sending young people in a state of panic as they cannot earn money to fund some of their personal needs and wants.
However, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have not all been negative.
The pandemic has brought a sense of togetherness, as we reunite and work towards a common purpose, re-establish relationships with old friends or family, and even make new acquaintances or friends! It also has given us a chance to see and become more aware of the world around us for what it really is, and to understand the relationships between economics, politics and technology.
Having a lot of free time on their hands, this has been a time of self-reflection, reconsideration of the ways in which they have been living their lives, figure out what they may really want to achieve, which things/people are toxic to them, and even catch up on lagging school work or project. Different ‘challenges’ circulating on social media such as work out challenges, allow
young people to move from their comfort zones and discover a new hobby. For some, it has also been a time to learn a new skill, or even take up course, as there are several institutions such as Harvard offering free courses, which under normal circumstances would not have been free.
More bonding time with families has been availed, as young people have more quality time and learn more about their families which they normally would not have considered. Young people, especially in Zimbabwe are hustlers. Some have even joined the mask and hand sanitizer retail business venture! Most importantly, certain customs such as drug and substance abuse have been significantly reduced.
The impacts of Covid-19 will definitely leave a scar in our memories. It is up to us however to make the best of this situation through self-improvement, mapping innovative solutions to Covi19 and finding ways to help those in need. The future, after all, lies in our hands!