Young people’s mental health in a time of covid


“Help, help, help!” The terrifying words screamed by my one of my university housemates as I raced up the stairs bracing myself for the worst.

What I witnessed is still haunting me. It was a suicide attempt. Opening the door I was greeted by a blood covered bedroom and ensuite bathroom, the bleeding slit wrists of a close friend, and the echoing words of “I don’t want to live”.

Thankfully, my housemate was OK, physically at least, and is getting the much-needed help they need. Yet, the most concerning episode of what I expected to be a quiet Sunday, recovering from a few beers the night before was the response of the nurse at A&E. She, in total candid calmness commented how many of ‘these types of incidents’ had occurred since coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns. Her comment was in line with UK psychiatrists seeing a 43 per cent rise in urgent and emergency cases.

Now, I am not trying to make a political statement about lockdowns and whether or not they are an effective means of dealing with the pandemic. Yet the flippant treatment mental health has been given by successive governments has been exponentially illuminated by Covid-19.

Despite admittedly, the great strides made by NHS England in improving mental health services, including a £1.4bn increase in funding in real terms compared to three years ago for mental health, there is no doubt more needs to be done.

The calls for more mental health funding have been regular and numerous for years, as is the demand for young people to have a voice in the discussion. Sadly, mental health is persistently dismissed in politics, as more often than not, a young person’s phenomenon. Diminutive status for mental health is not warranted just because young people are, in general, more willing to talk and open up about their mental health.

Life in the ‘new normal’  has seen one in eight adults (12.9%) develop moderate to severe depression symptoms. While there is no doubt lockdowns, anxiety, and isolation has seen the deterioration of existing mental health conditions, as was the case with my housemate.

But the ‘new-normal’ is not solely to blame. Any attempt to scapegoat the pandemic as the sole cause for the increased mental health crisis in the UK is a clear fallacy. Suicide rates in the UK were at a new high in 2019 for both men and women.

Political discourse needs to stop treating mental health disingenuously. Too often mental health was insincerely tagged onto the list of reasons opposing a lockdown. Furthermore, “self-isolating” university students in their halls, in rooms akin to ‘prison cells’, as the best solution to the a positive tests, demonstrates not only a lack of compassion, but also the lack of seriousness with which mental health is viewed within government.

I would not wish what occurred on that fateful Sunday afternoon to happen to anyone else, nor for anybody to have to witness their friend in such evident distress. Nevertheless, we should not deny the profound impact personal experience can have on the perception of an issue.

Statistics remain just that, statistics. Although they contribute to greater awareness and education, I for one would not have been so compelled to comment on mental health had it not been from my encounter with its potentially tragic effects.

Talking about our own experiences is one of the only ways we can combat the political culture of dismissal, and the sceptical nature mental health can often be greeted with. Yes, the stigma is gradually withering away, while strides are being made in the right direction in terms of funding and treatment. Yet the onus is on all of us to not allow mental health to be dismissed as simply an exaggerated young person’s problem.

If you’re struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, there is help available:

Or talk to a friend, a family member, a teacher, or a colleague. Don’t suffer in silence.


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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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