Survey reveals impact of COVID on young people

Low mood, difficulties in school reported
  • Deborah Condon

At least one in five 12-year-olds and almost half of 22-year-olds in Ireland were experiencing low mood last December, a new survey has found.

According to the findings, 22% of 12-year-olds were experiencing low mood at the end of 2020 and they were much more likely than their peers to be worried about a family member being affected by COVID-19 and to argue with their parents more than usual.

In December 2020, just as Ireland was relaxing its Level 5 restrictions ahead of Christmas, a group of 12-year-olds and their parents, and a group of 22-year-olds, completed an online survey about their experiences of the pandemic up to then.

The survey was carried out by researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). It involved children and young adults taking part in the ongoing Growing Up in Ireland study. The findings have been published in a new report by the ESRI.

The survey found that 48% of 22-year-olds were experiencing low mood in December 2020. Some 48% also had elevated scores when measured for depressive symptoms. This marked a big increase from the 27% with elevated scores two years previously, when they were aged 20.

Meanwhile, 13% of 22-year-olds felt they had missed out on needed mental health supports because of the pandemic.

When it came to general health, 28% of 12-year-olds were vulnerable to severe COVID, or were living with someone vulnerable to severe COVID. The corresponding figure for 22-year-olds was 47%.

A total of 4% of 22-year-olds had already had COVID-19 by the time of the survey, while 10% of 12-year-olds had missed some school because they had previously had the virus or COVID-like symptoms.

When it came to returning to school in September 2020, 21% of the 12-year-olds who were still in primary school had some difficulties settling back in, while 35% of those who had made the transition to secondary had difficulties settling in.

Those who had moved to secondary school were also more likely to report finding school work difficult. However the majority said they felt ‘always' or ‘sometimes' safe from COVID infection in school, regardless of whether they were in primary or secondary school.

The survey also noted that students in both age groups were less likely to have a quiet place to study or adequate internet if they were from low-income families.

When it came to lifestyle changes, among the 22-year-olds who drank alcohol, 60% were now drinking less, while 17% were drinking more. Among those who smoked or vaped, 30% were smoking less, but 39% were smoking more. Overall, 22% were sleeping less, while 27% were sleeping more.

The parents of the 12-year-olds also reported some changes to their own lifestyles, with most reporting eating more snacks and having less time for themselves. However, most also reported doing more family activities together and enjoying time with their families.

"This snapshot of changes to the lived experience of Growing Up in Ireland participants is important not just for the short-term impact but the potential ‘shift' in the life-course pathways for individuals; especially given the timing around milestone transitions for 12-year-olds starting secondary school and 22-year-olds taking their first steps on the career ladder," commented one of the report's authors, Dr Aisling Murray, of the ESRI.

The report on the survey findings can be viewed here.


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