Children and youth in Canada and around the world have been affected greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. While most adults have the ability to engage in public discourse, children and youth face greater barriers when it comes to openly reflecting on their experiences and calling for real-world action.
A new study called the Child and Youth Well-Being Review, which is set to be released before the end of September, aims to understand how and to what degree young people have been affected by the pandemic, but local youth, their families, and professionals agree that there have been prolonged and profound impacts.
While there are certain trends taking shape, it is important to note the impact of the pandemic can differ from person to person. Different age groups also have vastly different experiences. Young adults, teen, and children under the age of 12 may have very different responses to the pandemic both in the short term and long term.
Among older youth, there has been a rise in mental health concerns.
“The demographic that’s most negatively impacted by the pandemic in their mental health is those aged 15-24,” says local child psychologist Greg Godard. “That’s a time when people are starting to secure their identity and this pandemic has put so much of that on hold.”
Community youth leaders, such as integrated youth services navigator Carley Dennis, youth advocate Anna Nozewski, and Veronica Yeoman, Student Association president at Medicine Hat College, all agree.
“Either youth that have never experienced mental health concerns are now experiencing them due to the pandemic or there has been a rise of mental health concerns for individuals who have experienced them before the pandemic,” says Dennis.
Younger individuals are not immune to these concerns and those who are below the age of 12, and therefore not eligible for vaccinations, have their own fears regarding the pandemic.
Eleven-year-old Nolan Russell admits the safety of his family is at the forefront of his mind. He is aware of the possibility of transmission, especially in school, and he worries about infecting others if he were to come into contact with the virus.
His mother, Kristen Russell, believes that, like Nolan, “there are a lot (of young people) who are anxious about giving COVID to their grandparents or parents or siblings. We’re not addressing those fears,” she says. “The right thing needs to be done to protect the people that can’t protect themselves, and those are our kids.”
Kristen and Nolan both feel that schools, public officials and community members all playing a role in protecting youth, by implementing and/or following health and safety measures.
“Our kids are resilient,” Kristen says, but Nolan explains that, as a young person, he has been unexpectedly burdened with the pandemic and is having to focus on issues far beyond what individuals his age should be forced to deal with.
“I shouldn’t be dealing with this,” he says. “But it is what it is and we have to get through it and give our best to do what’s right.”
Nicoelle Wanner, a family physician in Medicine Hat, offered her insight by saying, “We as a society have a responsibility to kids.”
“They have paid dearly for the last 18 months and I think we owe it to them to do all we can to ensure that they can do what’s expected of them; to play and go to school,” she said.
“Everyone, no matter their age, is feeling the uncertainty that we’re living in right now.” added Nozewski.
Mental Health Help Line (Alberta): 1-877-303-2642
Crisis Service Canada: 1-833-456-4566
WRITTEN BY KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News