We spoke to two young Aussies about how the pandemic has affected their mental health and wellbeing, and about how they have coped through lockdowns.
State of Mind is Smiling Mind's annual survey which assesses the mental health of Australians. This year, it was particularly important to capture the perspectives of youth and how their wellbeing has been impacted by COVID-19 and the reality of life in lockdown.
Occupation: Law Student & Retail Manager
Wellbeing Rating: 6/10
Occupation: Kitchen Attendant Aged Care
Wellbeing Rating: 8/10
When asked about the impacts of COVID-19 on emotional wellbeing…
Nick: “COVID-19 has increased the amount of time I have felt anxious and sad, it has certainly exacerbated my emotions.”
Nick is among the 47% of young people who say they have experienced a declining mental health as a direct result of the pandemic. He says the situation has brought a lot of sadness to his day-to-day life. Nick extended his degree last year as he found it difficult to motivate himself and didn’t enjoy online learning. He has also been unable to work during the lockdowns in his part-time job as a retail manager.
Sasha: “Every expectation of how our lives would be going this year was thrown out the window and it's hard at times to still be grateful for what we have while not being where we want to be. Emotions seem to be very unpredictable and constantly changing, difficult to stay at ease when much of what’s going on around us is not normal.”
...on job security
Nick: Job security was a major concern for one in four young people surveyed over the last year, with many young people like Nick experiencing loss of work on part-time or casual contracts.
Sasha: “I am currently working as a kitchen attendant in a nearby aged care facility, this is something I am extremely grateful for as even though during this last year our lives have been filled with uncertainty of lockdowns it has been one constant thing for me”.
...on proactive mental health care
Nick: The last year has changed his attitude towards how he spends his time. “Now I just try and focus on the small things that bring joy”. He exercises regularly by going for bike rides and makes it a priority to stay in contact with friends. He loves to make art and says taking the time to be creative helps him “process feelings and thoughts”. Nick rates his mental wellbeing at a six out of ten.
Sasha: Sasha’s physical health routine has also been key to proactively supporting her mental health. Sasha rates her mental wellbeing at an eight out of ten, although she describes herself as “tired but staying positive always”.
One of the greatest difficulties expressed by both Nick and Sasha was maintaining good relationships throughout the pandemic, and they are not alone. According to our survey, 27% of young people list relationships amongst their main concerns for their mental health.
Nick: With many of his friends living beyond five kilometre limits - and so unable to meet in person, Nick has had to rely on technology to connect with others, which he says is “simply not the same”. He explains, “lots of my relationships have gone into hibernation, as we are not creating new memories or improving our relationship in any way, it feels as though they are languishing”.
Sasha: As an only child, Sasha explains she used to rely on being around others to cope with her emotions. “The last two years have involved a lot of challenges and lessons for me. Adjusting to life out of high school was made easier with so much time at home due to lockdowns last year, however the distance from friends and normalities of social life has been much more difficult to accept”.
...on planning for the future
Nick: Remains positive and hopeful for the future and looks forward to seeing friends, returning to work, and hopefully attending his university graduation. He has several art gallery exhibitions planned and plans to also commence his practical legal training next year.
Sasha: “I am extremely looking forward to regularly catching up with friends and family once again, that wholesome vibe at gatherings is something everyone craves once again. Further into the future I am excited to finish my course and begin a meaningful career in youths mental health to provide them early with positive cognitive coping strategies”.