The social butterfly generation (Gen Zs and millennials) without a doubt have been struggling throughout lockdown. Questions surrounding the new navigation of dating, as well as how to keep feelings of isolation and loneliness at bay, have definitely come across our minds. Psychotherapist Lesley McPherson shares with Chattr how young people can maintain sanity through lockdown and covid restrictions.
What are some of the most common social issues you’re hearing from young people during Covid?
Across the board, there are reports of soaring levels of anxiety and depression and a general pessimism for what the future might hold. As far as short term issues, young people are massively disappointed at cancellation of things like end of year formals, gap years filled with travel adventures and other celebratory ‘rite of passage’ gatherings/events.
However, we are seeing a deeper concern in young people about employment and future career opportunities.
Recent findings from a study by Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation showed that “young Australians are fearful and uncertain for their future as a result of COVID-19.
“A national survey of 2,208 young people aged 15-25 and 2,164 parents of young people aged 12-25 conducted at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in Australia showed 40% of young respondents felt that the pandemic had impacted their confidence to achieve future goals – young women were more likely to feel this way (43%) than young men (38%). Alarmingly, research also found that half of all respondents felt their mental health had got worse during this period (51%).”
According to headspace CEO Jason Trethowan, these results not only reflect the current mental health status of young Australians, but raised serious concerns for future wellbeing.
Trethowan goes on to say that “the survey results reveal significant discrepancies between how much parents believe their young peoples’ lives are impacted as a result of COVID-19 and what young people are actually saying themselves. This disconnect reminds us that it is important for parents to check in with their young person to understand what’s affecting them in this current environment.”
The study also revealed that despite the big changes young people are facing, they’re not seeking help, with “one in five young people saying they need support for their mental health but are not following through to access it.”
We do know from history that younger people tend to bottle things up. It is harder for them to voice their feelings, particularly in a situation such as COVID-19, where we are playing on a field that is new to everyone. Nobody has a rule book here, and we are relying on science to adapt and act as quickly as possible.
We do know that for the most part, young people are resilient, and with strong and sound parenting or mentoring, we can provide a safe space to allow them to share their feelings and concerns and to also find a path to a joyful, positive outlook. Perhaps it is a case of child and parent, or young person and mentor, seeking help together, as we must remember that the parent/mentor has not trodden this path before either.
What are some of your best tips for young people to maintain sanity through lockdown and Covid restrictions?
There is a popular saying in many mental health or spiritual growth circles that says, “you cannot control what is happening to you, you can only control your reaction to it.” I believe this is true here, too. While we really do not know how quickly they will find a vaccine or cure, or how fast the spread will come under control, we can train our minds into thinking rationally and shift the way of thinking from one of fear and uncertainty to strength and resilience.
I also believe gratitude comes into play in a big way here. If we look at what we do have, rather than what we don’t have or what we may be missing out on, we will be in a much better mind. space.
Being grateful for our health, peace of mind, our friends, our family, our pets, our home … These things all form a positive outlook and help us better tackle the challenges ahead.
I think it is also important to remember that not achieving a goal isn’t the end of the world. Of course, it brings with it a sense of achievement and joy, but perhaps this is a good lesson for life – not all of your goals will be achieved and not all your endeavours will be a success. It may be a good chance to learn how to best deal with these situations.
Since millennials/Gen Zs are such a social generation, how do you think they’ll be able to meet in the current climate? Will it just be repetitive virtual catch-ups?
In places like Victoria, where lockdown laws are tough and enforced to the letter, I imagine the virtual catch up to be the way things are for the next few months. In the rest of Australia or the world, things will be different. The way we socialise will – and has – changed, with only certain numbers of people allowed in venues, check-ins, time limits on dinner reservations and so on.
This will be hard on younger people who of course wish to party, dance, socialise in large groups, meet new people and perhaps have a romance. However, the situation is what it is and while we are trying to get a handle on it, we must follow the regulations set in place, or we could end up in a worse position. A sacrifice now and for the next few (goodness knows how many) months may mean that we can live a much more free and abundant life sooner rather than later.
How do you navigate dating in the time of Covid? Do you see the future of dating to be completely different?
Dating is a tricky one. If we recall back to when the HIV pandemic first arose in the 1980s, dating was a minefield. Now, forty years down the track, we have studied the virus and we know how it behaves. We know how to prevent transmission.
Unfortunately, as Covid-19 is so new, we are not armed with the knowledge to circumvent it. It is also highly contagious and spread through the respiratory systems, so even kissing someone, or standing within a few feet of them could cause the virus to spread. Perhaps we will return to more old-fashioned ways of getting to know a person via letters and phone calls before actually meeting up, and having throughout Covid-19 tests performed with negative results before we do meet them in a dating situation?
How do you keep feelings of isolation and loneliness at bay?
This is a tricky question as it is individual to each person. Some prefer to talk on Skype and Zoom. Others like to chat on the phone. We are so lucky we live in a world where technology allows us to constantly be in touch with other people in one way or another. Of course, nothing ever replaces meeting each other in person and giving each other a hug, but for now, we must be grateful for what we can do, and technology has allowed us so much. From online dinner parties and wine tastings to group zoom get-togethers, we can remain in touch with our friends while still remaining in a very safe space.