Effects of COVID-19 in young people’s lives #5 / by Vanessa T Amidu
The 21st century is undeniably an era of globalisation, open boarders and trade. This means that whatever affects one State can easily affect the other States hence the rampant spread of the corona virus which has turned out to be a global pandemonium. The interconnectedness of our cosmopolitan world has been proven by how an airborne disease that started in Wuhan, China has found its way to Nketa suburb in Zimbabwe. COVID-19 has produced various results in the lives of young people in Zimbabwe and these are vividly and blurry seen especially during the country’s lockdown times because some of the results are physical whilst others are mental. Some of the effects of COVID-19 to the millennial generation revolve around these issues: challenges in accessing SRHR services, crime, depression, mental health (stress and stress management), studies and research, social distancing vs sexual needs, domestic abuse, social welfare (hunger and lack), religion and hope, disease containment panic and escapism.
To start, the Corona Virus scare led the government of Zimbabwe to initiate a “Stay At Home” order which one can see as an involuntary façade of shutting down an already limping economy. In this economy, young people were already facing challenges to make ends meet and to afford basics. The corona virus has hit harder and young people are also suffering the most. First of all, schools were closed to avoid congestion and pave way for social distancing. It should be taken into account that campus life is an escapism site for most young people – a necessary evil. On campus students have the access to the internet, get away from home problems and poverty and also pursue an education, of course. COVID-19 has put education on hold. Even though there are some online lessons being done by other programmes, it is difficult for all young people to effectively learn because data bundles are currently expensive and are not user – friendly to accommodate frequent downloads of documents, checking emails or doing video calling. Adding to this, the graduation classes are feeling anxious on whether or not they will graduate this year.
This makes it inevitable for depression to sink in.
Young people are having a difficult time in accessing SRHR services such as contraceptives and counselling. Online counselling is not as comfortable as the one that takes place face to face. This is because we live in a society that abuses online privacy by taking screenshots; copying and pasting chats. As if that is not enough, the generation gap in society is still a cause for concern. Parents and guardians are in denial of the fact that young people are sexually active and having sex. Therefore, it is very difficult for a young person to keep contraceptives like condoms at home. Also due to various incidents, some young people acquired HIV and it has been easy for them to keep this a secret and confidential, however, they now face the challenge to access ARVs at the clinics/ hospitals near their homes without parents noticing. As such, this group of young people is feeding on stress and stress management mechanisms.
Furthermore, the “social distancing rule” is more applicable with neighbours or strangers but difficult for those having intimate or sexual relations. The “uncomfortable conversations” of sexual needs has led most young people to be sexually involved with new sexual partners simply because their sexual partners are locked down far away in the next town or suburb. The health sector should be concerned because this will fuel the spread of Sexual Transmitted Infections and or HIV, including unintended pregnancies. Another group to note is that of the LGBT community who feel imprisoned at home when they could have been on a campus environment that allows them to be themselves as there is a better level of acceptance of their sexuality and or gender in the campus atmosphere. At home they have to survive by fitting in and living up to expectations.
More so, our communities have come to realise the power and need for human connection during these isolation moments. In that line, loneliness, unemployment and realism leads to depression and mental breakdown. It becomes even worse in an African society that believes that mental health issues are “white people problems”. Mental breakdown is also fueled by the existence of broken families which students do not have to face during the semesters. Others use school to relieve themselves from domestic abuse which can be verbal, sexual and emotional.
It is also equally vital to note that a margin of young people that are not students are also affected by COVID-19. Most of these young people survive on hand – to – mouth informal sector trading. Shutting down the operations of the informal sector has led to hunger in homes and plainly starvation. The commuter omnibuses conductors are in jeopardy as they have no other means to make income. This increase of unemployment is paving way for crime as young people are forced to steal to survive. It is becoming more visible that the budget of the nation or youth policies do not favour young people or their social welfare.
In conclusion, most young people are taking drugs, abusing substances and alcohol as a form of escapism. Others who have always turned to religion for hope also suffer the banning of church gatherings and are losing hope by having had fellowships dismantled. However, technology is also to thank as it keeps those who are far close through WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. A lot spend their time watching soapies, TV series and films. Despite entertainment playing a major role in preventing depression, it also exposes young people to porn and excessive masturbation which in-turn is not a healthy habit.