April 28 2022

Sixth-former Ella Gilbert describes the impact that the pandemic is still having on young people's mental health

THE Covid-19 pandemic was, and still is, a devastatingly unique tragedy. It's a bitter irony that we have lived through an event that will be taught in schools in the future and featured in history books, especially considering the education we missed out on. Even now, the aftershocks continue to ripple throughout our communities, as we struggle to deal with grief, loneliness and a sense of disconnect from the childhood we were supposed to have. Our formative years, our time to grow and learn and experiment, have been tainted with isolation and loss on a global level. It has been heartbreaking to watch the struggles of friends, classmates and siblings, while experiencing it ourselves. 

Why has it become so common to see children stepping out of lessons to catch their breath; return their heartbeat to normal; quell the tears that threaten to fall then force themself back in? Why has our mental health become secondary to catching up on education? The fear of falling behind and not making the most of the time we have out of isolation has created a culture of guilty responsibility that prevails in schools and echoes around classrooms until it affects our state of mind.

Everywhere you look you can find articles and speeches about what we have lost, out of touch ‘solutions’ to fix what can't be fixed, social commentators bewailing what we have lost while condemning our attempts to cherish what we still have and to recover. Community is vital to pushing through this hardship yet it seems to be the hardest concept to grasp, when divisions spring up due to politics, ethnicity, class and gender. We have been sent to and from school in a sense of fear for years now;  the consequential repercussions on mental health must be addressed and must be helped. I am tired of sitting through assemblies being told how to feel, how to cope - a scheduled 30 minutes of care, then back to lessons and exam pressure. It feels as though nobody's listening, just talking at, not with, us. Empty platitudes then back to English lessons; I’ve spent more time discussing Hamlet’s mental health than my own.

I had just started my GCSEs when the pandemic hit, and have now started my A-Levels. These huge events have been contaminated by the threat of danger and too much time stuck in my own head until they have warped into standardised pressure and timed anxieties rather than proof of learning. A bigger focus is needed to form a group support system to destigmatise asking for help and work together to protect the health of our future. We have survived, as difficult as it has been, and it is now time to heal. Together.