The impact of social isolation on Britain's young people


Photo by Erik Mclean via Unsplash

People often say being in your twenties is the best time of your life.


The time when you socialise with friends, create the building blocks of your future career and if you’re lucky, meet the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with.


The days of going for an after-work pint are now a distant memory and while most of Britain’s young people comply with restrictions, more discussion is being had about the impact yearlong isolation is having on our mental health.


When I first read about the court case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, it wasn’t just the Oscar-worthy plotline which stood out to me.


Assange was spared from being extradited to the US on espionage and hacking charges, after his lawyers argued that his mental health would be at risk due to brutal torture tactics, including extreme isolation.


While I’m not suggesting the UK government are exercising an intentional form of torture, I started to wonder what effect isolation is having on our young people during lockdown.


Described by GoodTherapy.org as “the experience of being physically separated from others” including “being emotionally removed from a community”, social isolation can have a detrimental effect on a person’s mental health.


The website highlights that mental health issues including low self-esteem, social anxiety, depression and dementia can be attributed to extended periods of isolation.


For Francesca Sanna, a 24-year-old student living in Glasgow, lockdown has given her more time to accomplish daily tasks but has forced her to confront personal issues she could normally avoid.


“Lockdown has given me a chance to accomplish most of my daily tasks from the comfort of my living room and that’s helped me in many ways. I can now save more money on transport and eating unhealthy meals out,” Francesca says.


“To spend this much time isolated from the world means having to confront so many demons I’d usually try to run away from. In my case, I am a binge eater. I eat my emotions more than anything else and having a very active lifestyle I could spend time away from my fridge.


“However, now I spend so much time at home, I often found myself in tears because I couldn’t help but eat whatever was in sight.”


Similarly, Josh Minister, 24, from Braemar discovered newfound freedom in the initial lockdown but is finding isolation harder with the changing seasons.


“Due to living so remote and somewhere incredibly beautiful, I was still able to go on long walks and have BBQs and picnics with my housemates. For that, I feel incredibly fortunate as many of my friends in towns and cities were not able to do the same.


“We're all aware of the impact darker nights have on us and this year I feel it. Spending less time outdoors has been incredibly difficult for me as that was my escape during the first lockdown,” said Josh.


However, Grace Walsh, 23, from London has had a positive experience in lockdown including the ability to concentrate on projects without additional distractions.


“When my flatmate went back to her parents’ in November, I was worried about being by myself. But it turns out I’ve done loads of stuff I wouldn’t have if she was still here. I don’t drink as much, I’m eating healthier, doing a lot of exercises and catching up with more friends on the phone.


“It’s a good position to be in not being lonely and I feel lucky to have a job to keep me occupied during the day,” she explains.


According to Health.org, more than 69% of adults are concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their mental health.


Another report conducted by University College London (UCL), found that 90,000 UK adults felt anxiety and depression symptoms decreased in June as restrictions began to lift.


However, the study also noted that levels of mental health issues were more profound in young adults, people with lower income, sufferers of mental illness, people living in urban areas or people living with children.


Dr Parvinder Shergill, an NHS psychiatrist, noted that social isolation can have positive effects including better productivity but has observed patients with increased anxiety and depression symptoms since lockdown began.


“The number of cases I’ve seen during lockdown has certainly increased. Patients have said that isolation has increased their symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Some are struggling with not being with their loved ones, having a sense of control, a routine and fear of what the future might hold for them,” Dr Shergill said.


With the loss of jobs and more employees being placed on furlough, Dr Shergill has also observed more patients being concerned about finances.


“There has been concern regarding finances as well as frustration in their circumstances. Being apart from their loved ones whether partners or otherwise has left most patients with a sense of loneliness and longing for human contact,” Dr Shergill continues.


“Being on their own has resurfaced many issues they have been trying to suppress which seem to be bubbling in the face of the lockdown continuing.”


Published in July 2020, the government's Covid Recovery Strategy acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on different people such as ethnic communities, victims of domestic abuse and low-income households.


However, it makes no mention of mental health it’s five key intentions.


Mental health professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect of lockdown including Mind.org, who have described the mental health crisis as a ‘second pandemic’.


Similarly, data recorded by NHS Digital revealed a 50% increase in mental disorders over three years, with 16.7% of children aged five to 16 in England suffering from mental health issues in 2020.


For Britain’s younger demographic, the uncertainty of what the future holds means an increased reliance on optimism to comfort people through the remainder of lockdown.


With an eye on the future, what are the subjects of this article looking forward to once the lockdown finally ends? (Hint: it involves a lot of hugs)


“To hug my family and friends and then hit the club dancing until 3 am,” Josh says.


Francesca shares similar plans: “I’ll most likely run into each of my friend's apartments and hug them until they beg me to stop. Then, I’ll book the first available holiday to Portugal or Spain.”


Grace is still to host a housewarming party after moving into her new flat in August.


“I’d have my friends over for dinner. I moved into my flat in August and never had a housewarming dinner,” she said.


"I would love to do that properly with everyone being able to give each other a hug and not having to worry.”

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