Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

The World Health Organization says poor mental health is a parallel pandemic to COVID-19 – one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it.

But for young people who were already suffering mental health conditions before the crisis, Covid-19 has brought even more fear, anxiety and isolation into their lives.

A recent Guardian article gives examples of how the pandemic is turning the lives of many young people upside down. One section interviews Bella Brown, a student whose experience is just one of many. Lack of social interaction because of lockdown has exacerbated her “anxiety and chronic depression”. Behind closed dormitory doors, a sense of uncertainty and solitude have become a daily companion for many youngsters in the UK. Adding insult to injury, any attempts to access university counselling services online have failed, the slots are described to be booked up until October 2021.

Such tales of dismay, disappointment and anger are becoming all too familiar to students all across the globe on the verge of their adulthood, whose university years and future aspirations are being hijacked by the virus. For international students, isolation, cultural differences and extra expenses only added to their worries.

Another article features a survey of 2,000 students conducted recently by the Office for National Statistics. The study found that over half of the students who were interviewed report a “mental health slump”, with a level of anxiety amounting to “5.3 compared with 4.2 in the general public”.

No doubt, a lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment on millions of unwilling participants. Humans are social creatures, for whom solitary confinement is perceived as a punishment. Denied the chance to mingle, we are pushed into our own little worlds, amplifying existing anxieties.

This is especially crippling for the youngsters whose teenage years are supposed to be a social rite of passage. Meetings with friends, hobbies, travel, and pretty much all extracurricular activities are only partly possible or not at all. Instead, what remains is extreme internet consumption.

The crisis has also exposed the Achilles heel of Government’s disastrous response to global calamity. Unfortunately, their lofty rhetoric often rings hollow and the university students had essentially been left completely in the lurch. They are afraid, listless, bored and helpless – and many are developing indelible psychological scars. What can be done?

Everyone is exhausted by this ongoing ordeal. But for some, this crisis will have honed resilience, whilst many others will bear scars. Young people’s mental health must be a priority this lockdown. As the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations gathers pace, we must prepare for the aftermath of this pandemic, expanding mental health services fast enough to deal with whatever emerges from behind closed dormitories doors.

Other measures such as psychological support services on campus, university-run guidance programs, greater flexibility regarding workloads and reassurance that students won’t be discriminated against due to mental illness would also help. If the governments were to adopt any of these suggestions it would be a step in the right direction. There is no better time than now to do so. However, I remain hopeful that our generation will pull through.