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Covid and Control: Are Our Lives Our Own?

Covid has had many consequences for health. Some people, years after having the virus, struggle with taste. Some have continuing breathing problems. Many died. The physical legacy of Covid-19 is clear. 

But what about the consequences for mental health? 

Since the first lockdown, people have discussed the impact of quarantines and a global pandemic on mental health. In politics, this is less to explore the mental wellbeing of the UK population, more to justify certain actions. Sajid Javid cited mental health concerns as a reason to open up the country.  In the health sector, this discussion lead to knew quasi-syndromes to informally diagnose people with. The NHS listed anxiety as a long term effect of Covid. Similarly, the British Medical Journal used the mental impacts of the pandemic to create a new sub-sect of mental ill-health causation – psychopathology in association with a viral pandemic. In both the political and health worlds, little was done to understand the impact of Covid on the mental health of young adults. While this is still arguably the case, over a year since the last lockdown, recent developments have occurred in the charity sector. 

The Prince’s Trust, a charity looking to support young people in education and work, recently conducted a study that found over 60% of 16-25 year olds experienced anxiety about their future directly as a result of Covid. In a similar study, the Guardian found a third of the same age range believed their lives were no longer their own – too much had been given up as a result of the pandemic. 

Falling right in the centre of this group, students at the University of Bath have mixed opinions on this study. Four were spoken to, all of whom thought Covid was a factor but not the cause of our generation’s collective anxiety. 

One Social Sciences student said, having been in this age range before as well as during Covid, she felt anxiety about the future long before the pandemic first hit. While she agrees Covid was probably an exacerbating factor, this student thought our generation would probably feel like they had little control regardless of the pandemic. 

“We grew up in an economic crisis and then Brexit – neither of which we could control, both of which make our futures difficult. Covid is just another thing in a long list” she said. 

The student also remarked that she was more concerned about the current economic crisis and climate change than Covid. 

Very similar opinions were held by a Politics and International Relations student, currently on placement. She said she was surprised the figure was so high as she thought climate change and rising house prices probably had more of an effect. But she could agree that Covid probably was a factor that exacerbated things. 

A Maths student agreed Covid had changed life as he knew it and stopped him from pursuing certain avenues but felt more anxious about the state of our politics than the pandemic. He remarked that he thinks our politics is becoming more and more right-wing, with recent policies regarding economics and refugees bordering on the far right. To him, this was far more concerning and will negatively impact his future much more than the pandemic. 

Finally, a Psychology student wholeheartedly agreed she was no longer in control of her own life, but this was not just because of Covid. It was due to global warming, economic crises, the rising sense that there are more major disasters on the horizon. Again, Covid is just another factor in a long list. 

However, she very much disagreed that she was scared about the future. 

“Whatever will be, will be. We’re all going to die at some point. I’m going to enjoy my life so that if death comes sooner because of things like Covid, it will be okay.”

This optimistic outlook was shared by the other three students. All said they would still do their best to improve the world around them but wouldn’t let the growing feeling that nothing will work keep them from enjoying their lives. This nihilistic optimism was the defining feature of all four conversations. And it is precisely this nihilistic optimism that makes us think our generation might be a great deal stronger than studies like the Guardian’s and the Prince’s Trust seem to suggest. 

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