Young people in County Louth experienced significant loss of connection during pandemic, a new study has revealed.
The Covid-19 crisis was a time of significant struggle for young people, according to a study on transition year students by psychologists at Perspectives Ireland.
In the small study involving one transition year group in Louth as a snapshot of the national attitude of young people, the same themes emerged again and again.
When asked about their overall experiences of the pandemic, the majority of young people described the situation as “extremely difficult”.
A sense of things “not being normal” during lockdown recurred repeatedly.
One respondent said: “I miss things being normal. I hate this, having to be careful about going everywhere”.
All students in Louth surveyed reported that the greatest difficulty was coping with the loss of connections with friends, extended family, classmates, teachers and their school.
This generated a strong sense of being alone and feeling isolated, with one student saying: “I don’t get along with anyone like I do with my friends”.
One male student described the loss of his “solid support system”.
This strong response was repeated in many of the young people’s reactions which suggests that a significant social lifeline has been lost.
Students told Perspectives Ireland of the small things that they missed most, such as “having a laugh and gossiping” and “holidays”.
One student said: “I miss the little things, like going out for lunch, hugging family members and going on trips”.
Responses overall clearly showed that lunchtime at school is a key context for vital social interaction in this group.
The young people in the study had surprisingly strong negative reactions to having to stay at home.
The phrases “cabin fever”, “nothing interesting happens” and “I’m sick of my parents” captured this.
Most did not feel fully understood at home.
One young person described the challenge of “dealing with my issues without my friends there”.
Other examples of not feeling understood included: “It’s easier to relax around my friends than my family” and “my friends understand me better and it’s easier to relate to them about my life.”
Homeschooling in particular produced strong, negative reactions. Most of the young people reported that learning was hampered by not being physically at school.
“It’s harder to learn”, “I couldn’t concentrate” and “we get a lot more work” represented typical responses.
Some young people felt unable to ask the specific questions they felt they needed to be answered and several described their discomfort at having to have their camera on.
The more practical aspects of the pandemic were also a source of frustration to this group. They particularly disliked wearing masks and having to social distance.
But overall, what was most difficult about these new social requirements was that they reminded young people that life was no longer normal.
In conducting this small study with Transition Year students in Louth, it became clear to Perspectives Ireland that Irish society had not listened to these young people about the challenges they faced during the pandemic.
Director of Perspectives Ireland and Ardee native, Ciara McEnteggart said: “There was an undertone that their worries were less important or trivial and that they could easily catch up in time but, our findings clearly show that they did not see their experiences as trivial at all but “extremely difficult”.
"The fact is that young people are struggling in significant ways and experiencing loss at key points in their lives.
"As psychologists, it is a given that struggle and loss need to be addressed, if we are to avoid it leading to greater emotional difficulties and poor mental health.”
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