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Youth in pandemic: ‘I have felt my mental health spiraling down the drain’

Grafitti in Istanbul. (Bilge Nur Guven/YJI)

Spending their lives in repetitive confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic, young people the world over said they are struggling with loneliness, worry, sadness, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

In a wide-ranging series of interviews with Youth Journalism International reporters, 56 young people from 18 countries discussed the impact of the pandemic and quarantine. 

“I have felt my mental health spiraling down the drain,” said Riddhi Goenka, 19, of Kolkata, India. The news gives her anxiety and there are problems at college and issues with her family, she said, adding that she tries to talk with friends but feels that no one understands the heaviness of her thoughts.

“Before I was a bit okay, but now all I think is negative,” said Goenka, a media and communications student. “I honestly have no idea how to recover from this.”

Many people learned to wear homemade cotton cloth face masks to help stop the spread of the virus. (Alyce Collett/YJI)

In Melbourne, Australia, Crystal Palmer, 20, said everything in her life got taken away because of the pandemic. Suddenly, she had nothing to do.

Crystal Palmer

“It started really affecting how I saw myself because I was no longer being a productive part of society,” said Palmer.

Other young people said the quarantine feels like one long day.

“There is no difference anymore. Nothing to separate the days,” said Sevgi Eda Keskin, an 18-year-old from Istanbul. “Wake up, sleep, wake up, sleep. It’s all messed up.”

Sevgi Eda Keskin

In Ontario, Canada, 14-year-old Taylor Helwig said her days are blending together. She compared it to swimming, but starting to drown a little bit.

Blessy Josephin, 15, of Chantilly, Virginia, said she feels stuck since she can’t go out of her house as usual to learn or meet her teachers.

Jamie Sampson, 21, of London, England, said his own mental health hadn’t been massively affected by quarantine, but that the situation isn’t conducive for a healthy mindset.

“Being confined to my house means that my everyday touring has gone out the window,” said Lara Caitlyn McGlone, 18, of Little Chalfort in London. The loss of structure and routine impacted her mental health, she said.

Jomel Goh, 18, a student at the School of the Arts in Singapore, said she’s feeling stagnated and isn’t getting much done.

In Bojnurd, Iran, 21-year-old Sanya Zardkanlu said she’s worried about the health of her family and friends, and about her own health. Her whole society seems nervous, she said.

Li Zing Yi, 15, of Beijing is also nervous and worried about her family. News reports about the number of infections are nerve-wracking, she said.

Zineb El Janati, 16, of Fez, Morocco said she is stressed and anxious since the pandemic.

Juan Esteban Riofrío

In Ecuador, Juan Esteban Riofrío said the pandemic impacted him emotionally because it is hard to have little contact with other people. He’s not had much energy, he said, and feels sad.

Pegah Moradi, 18, of Stockholm agreed, saying she feels sad due to staying at home for longer periods of time.

The pandemic enforced a sense of loneliness, according to Chloe Connell, 15, of Melbourne, Australia.

“It’s just me, myself and I, 24/7,” said Connell.

I can’t wait for this quarantine to be over.

– Jonas Roi B. Amparo, The Philippines

Dhekra Abbessi, 19 of Soussa, Tunisia and a first-year university student, said she’s found herself hallucinating and washing her hands almost every hour, even if she didn’t go out. Catching a cold brought her to tears because she thought she’d contracted the virus.

Dhekra Abbesi

Though her parents tried to comfort her, Abbessi said she was afraid of doing the simplest things. She even lost focus in her studies.

Kanisha Shah, a 19-year-old student from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, said she felt lazy and unproductive and was simply unable to get things done. 

It wasn’t just productivity and motivation. The lack of human contact led to more overthinking and loneliness, some youth said.

Overthinking during quarantine has had serious consequences like mood swings and losing the ability to socialize, said Shirin Pajnoo, a 19-year-old from Kashmir. 

“The lack of interaction from the outside world also makes you miss many things,” said Jonas Roi B. Amparo, 18, from the Philippines, and spurs overthinking. “I can’t wait for this quarantine to be over.”

Jonas Roi B. Amparo

Aliyah Kassam, a 17-year-old from London called socializing and being around people a natural instinct and even a necessity. That’s why being deprived of these sorts of things can be really tough, according to Kassam, who said her mental health also affects her physical health. 

But some youth have found quarantine to have a positive influence in their mental health.

For a few, that means having more time to work on themselves.

“Every day I take time to do yoga or work out,” said Chambie Elliott, a high school sophomore in Klein, Texas. “I’ve also been reading more and practicing meditation, which is somewhat new to me.”

Chambie Elliott

Rhytm Joshi, 19 of Pune, Maharashtra, India, said that quarantine reduced her stress. Having more free time gave her the chance to breathe and to smile. During quarantine she had fewer anxiety attacks, she said. 

Long Island student Maggie Wang, 15, of Northport, New York, agreed.

“It’s been overall better for my mental health because there isn’t the stress of physically being in school,” said Wang.

Initially the pandemic didn’t affect 22-year-old Binnet Roberts of The Gambia mentally – until a close family member died of covid-19.

Most of the young people interviewed didn’t like being in lockdown, quarantined or restricted by the pandemic. They said they couldn’t wait for it to be over.

But those who needed a break from their job or school took the chance to make the best out of the situation by doing what they planned on doing for a long time. For some of them, it might have led to calming their regular everyday stress.

Siddi Shah, a 19-year-old from Mumbai, India, said quarantine provided a needed break from daily life.

And 17-year-old Aaron Foster of Bexley, just outside of London, said he improved his relationship with his family due to quarantine. 

Diksha Sinha, 20 of Kolkata, India, said she feels irritated and down all the time. But lockdown, she said, has an upside – it’s been a much-required break for her already exhausted mind.

This story was reported by Salma Amrou in Suffolk, Virginia; Mariama Barry in Coastal Road, The Gambia; Aileen Cevallos in Quito, Ecuador; Nisha Chandar-Nair in Lincoln, England; Alyce Collett in Melbourne, Australia; Rosie Evans in Liverpool, England; Bilge Nur Guven in Istanbul; Holly Hostettler-Davies in Bridgend, Wales; Chuying Huo in Ontario, Canada; Erin Kim in Andover, Massachusetts; Manar Lezaar in Fez, Morocco; Katrina Machetta in Spring, Texas; Lyat Melese in Alexandria, Virginia; Nivetha Nandakumar in Cardiff, Wales; Purnima Priyadarsini in Bhubaneswar, India;  Aimee Shah in London; Parnian Shahsavary in Tehran, Iran; Lucy Tobier in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Daisy Wigg in Dartford, England.  It was written by Erin Kim, Aileen Cevallos and Parnian Shahsavary. Alyce Collett made the face mask photo and Bilge Nur Guven made the cover photo.

Covid Mood is a global project by Youth Journalism International examining how the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 impacted mental health among the world’s young people. Its 17 news stories and accompanying photos and illustrations are by 21 students from a dozen nations on six continents. Together, they interviewed 56 teenagers and young adults in 18 countries and mental health professionals from five different nations. All the stories are accessible here.

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