Special Report - Headwrecker: How the youth of Ireland are faring amid the Covid-19 crisis

They’re the forgotten cohort, a generation also cocooning, also locked away for the past month, but largely absent from the national conversation. 

So how are young people coping with Covid-19? Is it wrecking their heads? What do they make of this new reality? 

In conjunction with SpunOut, we asked them to share their thoughts.

Special Report - Headwrecker: How the youth of Ireland are faring amid the Covid-19 crisis
Illustration by Mark J Hiblen of MJHiblen Art.

Katie, 18

So far during the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve been finding it hard to get used to the situation at hand. Everyone in the country is self isolating at home. Schools are closed, as are every non-essential service. We’re watching the world panic but we’re also watching it band together.

Personally, in order to cope, I have been practising self care and I am doing my best to keep a positive mental attitude. I’ve made sure to keep in contact with the ones I love and have been keeping myself preoccupied through reading and writing out the doubts I’m feeling. All we can do is our best I suppose.

Dean, 17

I have found the lockdown difficult to cope with because in my family, we are used to just walking into each other’s houses and have a conversation. We are a very open and welcoming, close knit family which is hard to separate from, hence the difficulty of lockdown. 

Also, the lack of freedom and social distancing makes it harder to enjoy getting a break from the house. The lack of seeing my friends and also the amount of schoolwork I’m getting is just a stress!

Ross, 20

It has been tough staying in and trying to do college assignments, particularly as the percentage of my assessments that would’ve gone to the degree has been removed. It also has meant looking after my family more and shopping with all the precautions such as gloves and hand sanitiser.

However, it has also meant connecting with other people online through meetings, college societies and through my work with a mental health text line. It has been stressful and have needed to take more self-care, but checking in with myself and others have helped so much.

Jakub, 18

Young people in Ireland are trying their best to stay at home and keep them and their families safe. I feel like there should be more information given to schools to share with young people and how they can cope with this pandemic.

I feel like young people are not being supported as much as they should be tried this pandemic and help them get through their day-to-day lives.

David, 22

I am most thankful for technology during this pandemic as it has allowed me to remain connected to those closest to me. 

I just hope all of this ends soon as some days it is difficult to function when the future is so uncertain and it feels like any efforts I make may be to no avail.

Chloe, 20

Initially the situation was quite scary and nerve-wracking due to the lack of information and clarity, but this was a common issue for everyone. 

The biggest problem I have found is attempting to do college work. Despite the worry and stress about health, money, etc being put on families across the country students (both second level and third level) are expected to continue working as normal. 

With no access to a library, a suitable study environment or the necessary books it makes doing college work more difficult than usual. 

Of course nothing can be done about this situation but the refusal of colleges to be more accommodating and the lack of support from the Department of Education is making the situation harder than it should be. 

Now should be a time for all students to focus on their families and their health, not trying to get work done.

Roisin, 20

This whole experience really is like a rollercoaster. One day it can feel fine
and I feel content in myself, and the next there is a
huge wave of anxiety. I think it comes from all the unknown associated with it. We don’t know when
we’ll be able to see our grandparents again, hug a friend again. I think it shows how much we took for granted before, like sitting down to have food in a restaurant or having a chat with the cashier in a supermarket.

Aoife, 17

It’s completely surreal, but it’s also amazing how quickly this has become the new normal. When I try and think about life before Covid-19 it seems almost dreamlike, like it didn’t even happen.

I’m finding it so hard to stay motivated. If I slept in before this it was a panic because I would be late for the bus, now if I sleep in I’m just late for my desk — and it’s not going anywhere!

For now I think it’s important to focus on the present and do things like play football in the garden, use the seven-year-old basketball hoop and go planting spuds with Dad, a collection of stuff I hadn’t done since I was about 11.

In a way, the pandemic is a bit like revisiting a childhood summer holiday. I was always very excited to go back to school.

Liane, 20

I was surprised by how the pandemic has made me feel. I think I expected to feel scared, but instead I feel bored. An insatiable kind of bored where you get stuck in a constant loop of monotony and you feel like your brain has turned to liquid in your head and you feel like there’s no meaning anymore, no point. The world feels really unstable right now and I think we’re just trying really hard to keep our balance.

Aoife, 21

I’m in my final two weeks of my degree at UCD, and this couldn’t be further from how I imagined it going.
Instead of taking library breaks to go sit in the sun by the lake, I’m going from my desk downstairs to chat the dog for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Special Report - Headwrecker: How the youth of Ireland are faring amid the Covid-19 crisis

Eimer, 17

On March 12 when the schools closed, it felt like I was in the midst of some apocalyptic disaster film. A few weeks since then, I’ve been trying to establish a basic routine with schoolwork, face calls with friends and a little exercise.

 Having some consistency has kept me more focused and I’ve somewhat adapted to this new normal. This is an anxious time, some days are better than others so I’ve been conscious of upping my self care and doing things I enjoy, like baking, reading, playing boardgames and (surprise) watching Netflix.

Jessica, 19

My friends and I, all living in a relatively close proximity to each other, are in contact with each other now more than ever. Apart from the odd discussion on a new source of information regarding Covid-19, our group chat is a source of humour and distraction, very much needed as of late.

Anna 17

I feel very lucky to have been able to move home, and to have parents and extended family who are doing well, but cannot wait until we are allowed to catch up in person again.

Jessica, 19

I am in second year of my physics degree right now, and studying for exams during the pandemic is definitely a different experience. It’s times like these that I feel really grateful for my situation, I’ve kept my job but I have friends who have been let go, or picked up more hours in essential work that puts more stress on their studies. I’m lucky to be staying with my family, and although I can’t see my friends or boyfriend, I have people to talk to every day, not everyone is so lucky.

Eimer, 17

I’ve been at home for a little over 6 weeks, so this is starting to feel like the new normal, which can be disorienting. College essay deadlines are actually a welcomed structure to my week, something that I will have to compensate for when I’m done.

Maisie, 19

My experience of the Covid-19 pandemic as a Leaving Cert student has been filled with constant anxiety and uncertainty regarding the exams. It is difficult to study with a pandemic taking place around you, I sometimes find myself losing motivation for studying as exam worry pales in comparison to the virus we are facing.

By postponing the exams until late July, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine an end in sight. Now that we have to do our exams so late I can’t get a summer job to support myself in college and I am struggling to find accommodation as landlords can’t hold properties for students who don’t know when they will be attending college. I understand the exams were postponed out of fairness to students but how is this fair to students either?

Student’s mental health is paying the price of this decision.

Tara, 20

It really is the little everyday things that we take for granted. The feeling of uncertainty is what I, and most people I know in my position are experiencing. The uncertainty of if exams at home will show our full potential, the uncertainty of how finding a graduate job will work out in the next coming weeks and the uncertainty of what the future as a whole has to offer. I am grateful for my health and my friends and family who are only a text or phone call away but the stress and sense of loss is looming over me now.

Eoin, 19

It’s been pretty grim. I’ve been very isolated over the last number of weeks having been at home since the closure of schools. As I live rurally, there’s very little to do and it’s been a challenge to stay motivated to keep doing my college work and indeed it’s a challenge to stay focussed.

I’ve fallen behind in some of my modules and have spent many late nights working up until 2am, 3am to get stuff done.

Denise, 23

Just being realistic is what‘s getting me through now, staying at home is necessary for the sake of our health and I know it won’t last forever, even if it feels that way at times.

Niamh, 20

Although it is wonderful being home and seeing my family every day, the lockdown has made certain aspects of my life extremely hard.

Living in rural Cavan, I have no access to wifi or a reliable mobile data connection. This makes completing my final year essays and exams extremely difficult. This also makes communicating with friends/lecturers/my boyfriend hard. Feelings of isolation are growing, and the fear of failing my final year due to connectivity issues keeps me up at night.

Special Report - Headwrecker: How the youth of Ireland are faring amid the Covid-19 crisis

Caitlin, 18

The pandemic has been extremely stressful so far, and on top of all that, 6th years are being told to study as normal for exams which is just adding to stress levels for so many of us. I don’t think anyone has taken our mental health into account, as it’s clear the ministers are more concerned with keeping up the tradition of the Leaving Cert.

Adam, 21

Honestly, I’ve been having a good time in isolation so far. I think others my age are definitely worse off for different reasons, but my experience has given me a break from the stress of my part-time job on the weekend and the drama of my college during the week.

When I weigh it up, this pandemic experience has personally given me more good than bad.

Lorna, 18

My experience with the pandemic so far has been eye-opening. Although there is a lot of fear and anxiety festering in my mind, I have benefited a lot from being at home. 

Thanks to the beautiful weather, I’ve been allowed to go for walks with my dog and sisters which has really helped my mental health, my health and my relationship with my family. 

It’s not all sunshine and roses due to the lack of uncertainty that I am facing with Leaving Cert exams. The stress that I’m feeling when I begin to think about it leaves me wondering what is the point of studying when I’m not completely certain that I will be sitting an exam come the end of July.

Sarah, 17

Since the lockdown started, my daily routine has been mostly made up of taking super-long walks and video calling friends until very late at night. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of health — I’m eating much better and getting lots of exercise since there’s more time, but I’m also getting very little sleep due to stress.

As a 5th year student, I think school is way easier at the moment than it was before the pandemic — since there are no classes there’s more time to get work done so I don’t end up having to do school all day, it only takes a few hours. I have much more time to do other stuff during school days now, like reading and cooking proper meals to eat. It’s great having so much
freedom over how and when to do the work.

Chloe, 17

It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least. I’m sitting my Leaving Cert this summer and I’m really struggling. I’m extremely academic and enjoy school but right now it’s really taking it out of me. The uncertainty is extremely tough to deal with. I try to remain positive though and see that maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I struggle with my mental health a lot and this situation is really not ideal but we’ll all get through it.

Niamh, 25

I credit being naturally introverted and having a pet dog as being imperative in maintaining a healthy psychological and physical balance throughout the pandemic. Similar to this, I read online that some pounds are now vacant with a rise in pet adoptions as a result of the lockdown. Although this would usually be heart-warming, it does concern me that people were not adhering to government guidelines if they took time to adopt and I am filled with dread to think that the return to work could mean a return to the pound for some of these animals.

Umulkhaira, 20

I’m in 6th year and I’m normally a motivated person and I usually get my work done on time, but during this lockdown I’m finding it difficult to keep structure during my day and separate my schoolwork time from my me time. Teaching myself takes so long and I’m finding that
I’m taking less breaks to catch-up. I share a room with my sisters so I don’t have a place where I can peacefully study and learn. I have a large family so the rest of the house is the same.

My mental health did get really bad at one point during the quarantine but then I started doing yoga, meditation and breathing
exercises and I feel like that’s helping a lot. I understand that the government is trying their best to make difficult decisions at this time of uncertainty but I just can’t wait until we can go back to a somewhat normal life.

Katie, 18

Personally, in order to cope, I have been practising self care and I am doing my best to keep a positive mental attitude. I’ve made sure to keep in contact with the ones I love and have been keeping myself preoccupied through reading and writing out the doubts I’m feeling. All we can do is our best I suppose.

Jessica, 21

Most days, I am able to process whatever comes my way, but now that I am nearing the end of my college education, I have discovered that my mental health is suffering more due to the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic. I find myself mourning over the lost experiences that I should’ve been having in my final days of a student. I feel I am grieving this former life that has been stripped from me. It is difficult to keep motivated when I’m studying at home, because the future is foggy and there’s no immediate goal in sight.

However, I’ve developed healthy skills to help cope within the chaos. The most important coping mechanism that I’m using is showing gratitude for the small things. By appreciating the little victories day-to-day, it allows for me to see the value in all of the good things in my life and builds a positive mindset.

Special Report - Headwrecker: How the youth of Ireland are faring amid the Covid-19 crisis

Samantha, 21

My experience with Covid-19 so far has been difficult to say the least. I feel as if life as I know it has been taken away from me. I’ve lost my job, my plans of going on a J1 and along with this I have lost my entire sense of independence.

I’m lucky in ways as I have quite a comfortable home environment and don’t have a lot of real complaining to do other than mentally adjusting to home. I have found this time to work on myself and try to get fit by doing a couch to 5k programme, I’ve also tried my hand at cooking and baking, something I wouldn’t of had the time to do due to trying to balance work and college. I’m worried about when I will get back to work and back on my feet as the plans for the future are very uncertain

Emily, 21

For the past few days, I have been going on runs and have been trying to keep myself busy to keep my mind occupied. Zoom calls are honestly what’s getting me through this pandemic, it’s great being able to speak to those who I can’t meet in person. I have been trying to see the good in everything around me and appreciate the village I live in by going on walks and sitting outside when the sun is setting. It’s the little things in life that keep me going.

Katie, 20

I’ve been finding lockdown hard. It was particularly difficult the first few weeks, being separated for the foreseeable future from my family and friends. When the crisis and lockdown began, it felt like my whole life had been torn away from me.

I think I’m adjusting better now, and I’ve developed a good routine of keeping in touch with the people who are important to me! I think I’ve learned a lot from this, and I’ve begun to recognise what really matters in life. It’s not the expensive stuff, top grades or lots of money that gets you through lockdown; it’s the happy memories of friends, family and good experiences!

Ben, 20

It’s a bit of a whirlwind. I was supposed to be moving to France for a year as part of my college course but that has been postponed until September at the earliest with more news in early May. Now I’m doing 12,000 words in college assignments, working remotely in a full-time basis, and trying to be a normal young adult in some kind of a symbiotic universe that is alien to the life 10 weeks ago.

Cole, 24

The biggest struggle for me has become the loneliness. I’ve just come out of medical training in the military. Spending months with the same group of people, sharing four-man dorms and going to the gym every evening. I was also lucky enough to see my girlfriend most weekends, which meant exploring London a lot.

Now I go back to my single room every evening after work and watch Netflix. I try to get a workout done every evening but the motivation is more difficult to find. I call home a lot and look at flights on Ryanair, hoping I get to see them all soon.

Niamh, 21

Negative emotions come in waves. There are so many hours in the day to experience the rawness of life, and every conversation, mood or laugh is heightened. I’m getting through it but I do worry for my mental health by the time night comes around. I share a room in the family home, which is a flat with no garden. I miss green spaces and the sea.
I’ve been apart from my partner of 3 years for over a month now, the longest it has ever been.

Living in the city, it’s frustrating to see people fail to social distance, meeting their friends or walking in threes expecting you to disappear while they walk by. Definitely an added stressor and I feel so anxious when I go for a short walk, taking back roads in and out of housing estates to avoid everyone.

Helplines and websites

More on this topic

Special Report: Picking up the €30bn Covid-19 tab will be the crucial question for the next government

CSO calls for more public help gathering data as coronavirus takes tollCSO calls for more public help gathering data as coronavirus takes toll

Ireland's hairdressers are split on when the salons and beauty parlours should reopen

Increase in domestic abuse incidents linked to Covid-19 lockdown