As we face renewed coronavirus restrictions, we’re reflecting on what coronavirus has meant for different groups across Birmingham. Today the spotlight is on young people. While we know young people’s experiences of coronavirus have varied massively, we’ve been lucky enough to chat with a few young Brummies to hear how coronavirus and the lockdown has affected them so far.
Connor, a 20-year-old student at Birmingham University and key worker at his local supermarket, explained it was the impact on his social life that affected him the most. Going from seeing his friends every week to not at all.
‘It’s been tough for everyone. I’d encourage everyone to open up to someone and not to keep it bottled up. It’s okay to be struggling, especially during a time like this. I know things are starting to go back to normal now, but I’d say to young people especially, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. It’s really helped me, just talking to my friends and my girlfriend and the people around me. It’s what’s brought me through lockdown actually, what’s kept me going.’
Katie, a 17-year-old sixth form student and #BrumTogether worker from Stirchley, recognised the positives of not feeling pressured to go out and socialise while highlighting the problems that can arise when you can so easily avoid communicating altogether – especially during lockdown.
‘It was so easy to just not message people. In one way that was good because if you’re not feeling like it then you don’t have to force yourself. But if you don’t put yourself out there and talk to people then you just won’t which can also be really bad for some people.’
Use of social media
Despite growing up with social media as a huge part of their lives, all of the young people we spoke with stressed the limitations of using it as the only way to stay connected. Katie told us, ‘As soon as we could sit in people’s gardens, I went on a bike ride and visited friends and you could feel the relief. Being able to talk to someone face-to-face.’
General mental health
Angel, a 20-year-old TAWS employee from West Brom, spoke to us about her own mental health and the links between emotional and physical health. ‘There’s definitely a correlation between emotional distress and physical impairment. Throughout lockdown, there have been times where I haven’t been able to put weight on one foot. Another time I had a twitch in my eye, was deaf in one ear. I think that’s because of emotional distress and imbalance. I hadn’t taken note of that until this conversation right now actually.’
While sharing that her own mental health has held up pretty well, Katie told us that for some young people she knows, having to stay at home 24/7 was really tough. ‘Not having school as a way to escape the toxicity in their home was really difficult for them. So, a lot of it was balancing home life and relationships that were a bit iffy.’
All of the young people we spoke with emphasised how important keeping busy during the lockdown was for them. Joel, a 20-year-old student from Kings Health, spoke about returning from university and readjusting to life at home with limited space. ‘How I coped with that was going running a lot and establishing a routine. Getting out and having a walkabout has helped me massively.’
Connor told us he’s been getting creative during lockdown and writing poems. ‘It’s a good way of keeping my mind at peace, writing my thoughts down in a poem. I think it helps to get your feelings out on paper.’
Katie mentioned how much working with #BrumTogether has helped her. ‘I’ve met so many new people and it was something to focus my energy on. But even then there were still times when lockdown was just really difficult.’
Despite the struggles and worries that have come along with coronavirus and the lockdown, the young people we spoke with have managed to take away something positive.
Angel said, ‘I’ve caught myself saying “I’m gonna miss lockdown”. It brought peace. Witnessing togetherness as well, seeing different people relating to each other.’
Joel explained ‘Coronavirus and the lockdown has made me appreciate people a lot more. When I came back home, I couldn’t see my grandparents immediately and it made me realise how much I wanted to see them. It brings people together. At the start especially, I found myself talking to strangers more and smiling a bit more when I was on a walk.’
Connor agrees, saying ‘I think it will help a lot of people to gain perspective and help them to realise what they value in life.’
Unfortunately, we’ve already seen an example of how young people may face the brunt of this pandemic with the recent U-turn on how GCSE and A-Level results are to be calculated.
But there are ways we can help at a local level to try and reduce some of the feelings of loneliness, uncertainty and confusion. One way is to continue sharing the experiences of young people, and provide a space in which they can communicate and be heard.
To find out more about young people’s experiences of coronavirus across the UK, take a look at the research carried out by BeatFreeks.
Where to find support:
If you’re a young person and you need support with your mental health, reach out to the team at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health who can help you access the right services.