Covid-19 has infiltrated our safe havens
Students and young people are facing the effects of ‘long covid’ as we see a progression into systemic agoraphobia
Covid-19 is one of the toughest modern-day challenges that society has had to face, with countless deaths and alterations to the way that we function in day-to-day life. The effects of the pandemic have been particularly brutal for younger generations, who, as highlighted by Paul Mason, , “will be paying higher taxes, carrying bigger personal debts and facing more uncertainty than any generation since the second world war”. According to the National student survey in July 2021, multiple lockdowns, changes to face-to-face teaching, and social distancing has had a drastically negative impact on the student experience and their well-being.
The growing concern, since the height of the pandemic, is how young adults are expressing profound anxiety about their futures, and disdain over extensive lockdowns, which have destabilised their mental well-being and education. A survey conducted in October 2021 indicated that, 37% of first year students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 39% showed signs of having a form of anxiety. These percentages represent a significant portion of the student body, who are displaying symptoms since returning to university, a typically socially encouraging environment.
It is therefore interesting to see that within the July National student survey, students who were distanced from their university campus were more satisfied with their courses, which could be a direct result of their socially distanced presence or remaining at home to study.
A questionnaire which was conducted, representing the responses of third- and fourth-year students, included 85% of whom were female and 15% of whom were male, investigated the effects of the pandemic on students. From the respondents’ data, the pandemic has had a lasting effect upon their mental well-being and the way in which they interact with others in society. Even though many students felt that they had missed on interacting with others while attending lectures online, and that face-to-face teaching was more beneficial, 39% also said that they attended lectures to create an incentive to leave their home. Nearly half of the respondents (46%) said that they felt anxious in public spaces or daunted by venturing outside and interacting with people since the pandemic.
This data could be an indicator of the development of systemic agoraphobia in our younger generations, who, as stated by Massimiliano Mascherini, the head of social policy, “have spent almost a year and a half of their early life in a total blackout, gaining no experience or human capital”. Students who were not already suffering with pre-existing social anxiety, described themselves as “feeling anxious” and that “being away from groups” and “spending most of the year in their home”, had exacerbated their anxiety, creating a tendency to shy away from in-person interactions.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen a transition into a heightened digital age, as people were asked to work from home, attend lectures online and communicate with others from the confines of their own homes. Ofcom measured the amount of time that adults were spending online, was up to 4 hours a day following Coronavirus. While twice as many video calls were made to keep in touch during lockdowns. Seeing as modern networking has made us much more accessible to others, it is not surprising that 54% of students said that they would keep in contact with friends through a blended approach of social media and face-to-face, depending on external factors. However, when asked to elaborate on the external factors that impacted their choice of ‘contact’, many responded with “time”, “loneliness” or “anxiety, but using time as an excuse” to not see their friends in person. Their responses correlated with the idea that students who may have been previously extroverted were now suffering with anxieties caused by the pandemic.
The resounding message from these data sources, suggests that our younger generations and students have become more accustomed and accepting of using social media as their primary form of communication or contact, to avoid situations that may stimulate their anxieties. However, overall they agreed that this form of communication is creating a systemic problem for young people, who have suffered from a lack of face-to-face interaction within the pandemic, and extended periods of time isolated in their homes.