Youths’ Mental Health vs Covid-19
The pandemic has resulted in a lack of job security and income for adults, thereby leaving many of them stressed and anxious. Shajahan Mohd investigates the pandemic’s impact on youths.
Distress amidst Covid-19. Photo by Shajahan Mohd.
Hype Issue #53
July 2, 2021
Ryan is stuck in a cycle. Between having Home-Based Learning, eating and sleeping, he is bored out of his mind. Yet he feels agitated, gets easily irritated and has occasional depressive episodes. His parents just do not seem to understand what’s wrong. Perhaps this might strike a familiar chord within you.
According to research done by AIA Singapore, 9 in 10 Singaporeans are struggling with their mental health even after one year into the pandemic, due to factors such as job instability and loss of income.
The deterioration of Singaporeans’ mental health was especially prominent during the Circuit Breaker phase when Singapore was under lockdown and all Singaporeans had to stay at home, unless it was for something absolutely necessary such as buying groceries.
HYPE conducted a survey to find out more about Covid-19’s impact on the mental health of youths.
Survey conducted by HYPE to find out the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of youths aged 18–35 in Singapore. Infographic by Shajahan Mohd.
A media release by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in May 2021 reported that nearly 2.3 per cent of people have experienced schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders at some point in their life.
Additionally, statistics from the Samaritans Of Singapore (SOS) in August 2020 reported that suicide remains the leading cause of death for youths. They received 21.4 per cent more calls from those aged 10–29, as compared to 2019.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among youths. Photo by Shajahan Mohd.
Covid-19 has definitely impacted Singaporean youths, particularly those who had existing mental health issues before the onset of Covid-19.
“I [got] very sad and suicidal,” said Ms Nur Afiqah Bte Mohd Azman, 28, as she described her experience during Circuit Breaker.
As someone who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia disorder since the age of 21, Ms Afiqah found the lockdown to be the most challenging point of her recovery. During the lockdown, she skipped her medication and it resulted in her relapse.
“The doctor told my parents that actually, my condition is very serious, and if they didn’t send me to the hospital, the symptoms may get worse and I may endanger someone’s life,” she said.
Although Ms Afiqah’s parents were aware of her condition beforehand, they had only just registered the severity of it. She found it difficult to plan her time and complete tasks. Coupled with the suicidal thoughts she was facing, the lockdown was extremely tough for her.
Infographic by Shajahan Bin Mohamed Haniffa. Source: Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH)
Mr Carlin Lee, 39, is one of the seven counsellors at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Counselling & Care. He attributed the deterioration of mental health to the difficulty of adapting effectively to the new measures and the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
The GAS system has three patterns of responses:
The alarm stage happens when we first perceive something as stressful and our body goes into a fight-or-flight response
“With Covid coming in, all the different restrictions, people would go into an alarm stage,” said Mr Lee, pointing out panic buying as an example.
The resistance stage happens when our body and mind tries to adapt to the situation.
“Your performance will get better with the resistance,” said Mr Lee. “However, as you drag things out, your body will get fatigued, [and] your mental health will get fatigued as well, because you are going through this stage for too long.”
The exhaustion stage happens when prolonged exposure to the stress factor causes our body and mind to be fatigued.
Although the lockdown caused Ms Afiqah’s and many others’ mental health to deteriorate as seen from the survey, there are some who used the lockdown to their advantage.
“I realised that it has also given me a chance to spend more time in myself and invest in myself,” said Mary (not her real name), 19, as she described how the pandemic has allowed her anxiety, depressive and bipolar tendencies to simmer down.
Mary first sought help in 2019 when she had trouble socialising. She suspected that she had an anxiety disorder but she did not realise that she may be having depressive symptoms as well.
“I was always kind of at peace with the fact that ‘maybe I have anxiety disorder’ and stuff, but the depression, I always felt like ‘no, I don’t have that’ and I was invalidating that part of myself,” she said, as she described how she felt before realising that her depressive symptoms were much worse than her anxiety symptoms.
The importance of parental support
In addition to depression itself, Ms Afiqah also had to battle against stereotypes and the stigma associated with it.
“One of my parents told me, ‘why are you not grateful?’ or ‘why [are you] sad?’ or ‘why [are you] like this?’” Ms Afiqah said.
Fortunately, Ms Afiqah has been feeling happier recently via coping methods such as praying, acting in dramas and rehabilitation. She is also preparing herself for another hypothetical lockdown amidst our Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period.
“I feel more acceptance that there would be another lockdown,” she said.
Unlike many victims of anxiety and depression, Mary was incredibly fortunate to have strong emotional and financial support from her parents.
“When I was going to get my antidepressants and getting in tune with all these things, [my mother] would offer to sleep in my room because I might be afraid to sleep alone at night,” Mary said. “Or she would offer to pay for medication, and she would ask me not to worry about money when I go for a psychologist and therapist.”
Why aren’t people seeking help?
According to a survey done by SOS, youths aged between 10–29 would not seek help even if they feel emotionally overwhelmed.
Several reasons include:
- They do not want to be perceived as ‘weak’, which may be a common stigma for those who seek help for mental wellness
- The fear of embarrassment and being judged
- The sense that nothing they do will help
Mr Lee also mentioned how many fail to seek help because:
- They do not want to be seen as weak
- They are unsure of what would happen if they sought counselling
- They are not convinced that what they are facing is a problem
What can be done
“Different people at different life [stages] would experience different problems,” said Mr Lee as he explained how mental health issues can be valid at any age.
He recommends people to have a healthy and structured physical lifestyle in addition to exploring different coping mechanisms that would make them feel happier.
Most importantly, he stressed the importance of having social interaction with others as it acts as a buffer to maintain a healthy mental well-being.
If all else fails, there is nothing wrong with seeing a counsellor.
As Mr Lee would say: “I see counselling as taking vitamins. You take your vitamins on a daily basis, you miss one or two days, that’s still okay, but we try to take vitamins to enhance our well-being in general.”