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How has a year of national lockdowns impacted young people’s mental health?

Although the UK has finally come out of the lockdown period, for many it was easily one of the most challenging times we have faced. Everyone was forced to put their lives on pause, we were locked at home and socialising quickly became a foreign concept. As a result, this took a toll on people's mental health, impacting their state of mind and wellbeing to a point where many fell into depression and some even found themselves suicidal. Therefore, in honour of the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which was celebrated earlier this month (10th - 16th May), we decided to interview a few people to gain insight into how the series of lockdowns have affected their mental health, and how they got through it.

How does your mental health at the end of the lockdowns compare to your mental health at the start of the pandemic?

Ik, 21, student:

My mental health fluctuated a lot during the lockdowns. Just being taken away from normality, not having anywhere to go and being inside all the time, was hard. As my sleeping pattern was ruined, I became quite anxious about things becoming out of my control, whether it was about university or the people that surrounded me. Still to this day, I have gotten so used to being alone with my thoughts that sometimes I feel like I can’t turn off my brain. But of course, as things have improved so has my mental health.

Laiqua, 21, student:

The lockdowns had a negative impact on people that don’t struggle with mental health issues and so with people who already do struggle with these problems, the lockdown was 10 times harder. My biggest issue was that as I have autism, I struggle with changes and concentration levels as well as my emotions. So, my mental health honestly deteriorated a lot at the start of the lockdowns. At the very beginning of it, I felt as though I had slipped into a mild depression as I was finding it very hard to communicate with the people around me about the difficulties I was facing.

Danilo, 23, client advocate: It has probably been the biggest rollercoaster. Obviously, in our everyday lives, we have our own personal issues, but it was a lot ‘easier’ to deal with them as we had a lot more daily things going on to distract us, which can make our problems feel more serious than they are. But during the lockdown, it was hard to escape them and so I found myself having to deal with these things a lot more. In a way though, this was a good thing for me because I ended up confronting situations which, under normal circumstances, I would have pushed aside.

Rachael, 21, student: At the start of the pandemic, my outlook on life was very different to when we were actually in the lockdown. I feel like the lockdown has made me more grateful for things. For example, I lost one of my best friends unexpectedly which impacted my mental health severely as well as my university degree. Then, as the lockdown continued, things got worse, especially with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that was all very heart breaking. Then, fully coming to terms with what the lockdown meant and realising that if we did go outside, we were at risk of dying was a very scary thought. I read some books about shame, such as I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) by Brené Brown, and Parent Yourself Again by Yong Kang Chan, which really helped me to understand gratitude and how to care for ourselves. I feel like through reading these books, I have been able to understand my feelings and how my mental health is a priority but also, I was able to begin to understand how other people can feel.

How has the lack of physical exercise affected your psyche and daily outlook towards life?

Ik: When I feel good physically, I also feel good mentally. I remember that at the start of the lockdown, gyms were shut down and as someone who likes to keep fit, I tried to do home workouts, skipping and running, but it wasn’t something that appealed to me. So, I stopped doing physical exercise altogether and started to comfort eat. I began gaining a lot of weight and this on top of being in a lockdown, it contributed to a lot of demotivation and unhappiness.

Laiqua: My daily outlook has changed considerably - I’ve been forced to savour the simplicity in life. We’ve been without gyms, restaurants, shops and it forced me to be resourceful so that my quality of life didn’t deteriorate.

Danilo: For me, I wasn’t really physically active before the pandemic began and I’m sure many people will relate to this, but since it started, I have felt my body needing to be active. My outlook towards life changed as a result because now I am healthier. I became a pescatarian and I’ve taken up jogging as a hobby and I can see the benefits more now than before the lockdown.

Rachael: I have always struggled with my weight from a young age and not being able to go outside during the lockdown was very scary for me in the beginning. As I was home, all I did was eat as there was not much else to do. I made an effort to go on long walks in the park every day, which was extremely beneficial, to create content for my Instagram. It changed my outlook as I didn’t feel like a lump just sitting being unproductive.

How did the lockdown impact your work life/university studies?

Ik: I would definitely say that the lockdowns had the largest impact on my university studies. I lost ALL motivation to do university work. Everything else that was going on in the world superseded my work focus. I would think to myself, “How am I supposed to focus on my university studies when there are people dying all around me?” The loss of normality meant that I lost all motivation to do my university work.

Laiqua: I really struggled with remote learning during the lockdowns and the lack of support available to students like myself. I struggle a lot with concentration, and I get a lot of anxiety when my workload builds up following prolonged procrastination. I felt as though I was stuck in my room all day and that my days were monotonous, with little to no balance.

Danilo: When the first lockdown started, I had just changed jobs into an industry that was foreign to me. Everything was new. So, being home and taking on a new role made it harder to adapt to the job. I didn’t have the chance to build relationships with my peers and learn from their experiences as much as I wanted to. When work invades your home life, the line is blurred between the two, so I found it hard to separate the two.

Rachael: With regards to work, I was not furloughed for 7 months as I had just started my new job when the first lockdown began, so it was a financial struggle, which made me anxious. With regards to university, I found it very hard to differentiate between creating a working space in my room and my bedroom. It was also very difficult because I really struggled to get into the flow of online lessons.

Overall, it is clear to see that the lockdowns were not easy at all for anyone. Even for those who felt like their mental health wasn’t too badly affected, the lockdown put a strain on many people, and it was difficult navigating it.

To access Drug Watch's extensive Mental Health guide, head to:

Andreia is our Society & Politics Editor and a third year student studying BA French & Politics at the University of Leeds. She is currently on a year abroad in Toulouse, France. She is pursuing a career in government and policy and is interested in foreign languages and cultures, pop culture and politics. Her Instagram handle is @_.adcb._.

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