Coronavirus crisis: Stress of pandemic affecting students’ ability to study

Headshot of Annabel Hennessy
Annabel HennessyThe West Australian
Aaron Deeks (19) says COVID-19 is easily his biggest issue of concern.
Camera IconAaron Deeks (19) says COVID-19 is easily his biggest issue of concern. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

COVID-19 has overtaken the environment and discrimination as the no.1 issue young people worry about, with some reporting they are so stressed about the pandemic they don’t know if they will meet university requirements.

Fewer young people also reported they are studying full-time with many citing the pandemic and their mental health as the reason.

Mission Australia will on Wednesday release the findings of its annual national Youth Survey, which quizzed 20,000 young people across the country about their lives.

COVID was the biggest issue for young people, with 45.7 per cent listing it as a key issue of concern. This was followed by the environment, which 38 per cent of respondents nominated, and equity and discrimination, which 35.4 per cent identified.

Coronavirus was also the biggest issue of concern for young people in WA even though the State has only faced short lockdowns this year, with 43.3 per cent identifying it as one of their key areas of concern.

In last year’s survey, equality and discrimination were the biggest issues following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Survey respondents said COVID had negatively impacted their participation in activities, as well as their mental health, physical health, family and friendships.

“I’m extremely worried that the amount of stress I continue to feel due to the presence of a global pandemic will affect my studies,” one young person told the report.

“What’s really quite awful is that these things continue to be normalised and students are expected to ‘carry on’. I don’t know if I’m going to meet the admission requirements for university.”

Others reported the uncertainty was negatively impacting their mental health.

Pictures of 19-year-old Aaron Deeks at home in Nollamara, Perth. Case study to go with story about how pandemic is impacting young people.
Camera IconAaron Deeks (19) says COVID-19 is easily his biggest issue of concern. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

“My anxiety has been heightened by a constant state of the unknown and that everything can change so quickly,” one said.

Nationally, 84.5 per cent of young people were studying full-time, which is lower than the 86.6 per cent studying full-time in 2020.

Mental health, academic ability and COVID-19 were the top three barriers impacting on young people’s achievement of study or work goals.

Just over half of respondents said they were happy, with males more likely to describe themselves as happy than females.

About a quarter of young people felt lonely all or most of the time in the past four weeks, and more than one in seven respondents rated their mental health and well being as poor.

My mental health was declining.

Young people also reported that climate change was a cause of anxiety for them. In WA, nearly one in four were extremely or very concerned about this.

“I’m really scared that we’re not going to do anything about climate change and thus our future will be negatively impacted,” one young person told the report.

Perth’s Aaron Deeks, 19, said COVID-19 was easily his biggest issue of concern. He said online schooling last year had been difficult for him and as a result he ended up stopping his studies. Recent pressure on the housing market also meant his family had to move homes, which added to his stress.

“That was quite a struggle, keeping up with my studies and so it got to the point where mainly because of COVID it just got too hard and too stressful. So I had to stop my studies and just focus on myself because my mental health was declining,” he said.

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