Anxiety and fear weave coarsely through the testimonies of many young people who have shared their experiences of the Covid-19 crisis.
In a special collaboration between the Irish Examiner and youth information resource SpunOut.ie, we take a look at the impact of the pandemic on a generation of young people, whose short-term plans and long-term prospects alike have been overlooked in the national conversation.
Job insecurity, no 'real' college experience, the lack of a social life impacting on mental health; these are just some of the things young people are worried about because of the pandemic.
While Covid-19 is believed to mainly affect the older generation and those with underlying health conditions, it's safe to say young people have been affected in different ways.
Cut off from friends, forced to move back home after living an independent life, many struggled to cope with lockdown and its aftermath.
Some may have been returning to a family situation that college gave them an escape from.
Others who didn't go to college may now be out of work, in industries which have shuttered, like pubs or event management.
Education was severely disrupted too, with many students wondering when they will be able to return to school or college.
Primary schools students will be worried about social distancing, and being able to play with their friends.
Other students who have compromised immune systems, or live with vulnerable family members, might be worried that their return to the classroom is putting their loved ones at risk.
College students must also be anxious about paying €3,000 in fees, with timetables remaining uncertain, in-person classes limited, and with the need to book accommodation fast approaching.
With little opportunity for work placements, study abroad, clubs and societies, which keep many students going when the studies get tough, one wonders what the current cohort of students will get out of their degrees, which everyone agrees is about more than just academics nowadays.
People graduating are perhaps in the most precarious situation, with many internships and graduate programmes suspended indefinitely. What supports will be given to them? You can't get the PUP, or be on the Wage Subsidy Scheme, if you were a full-time college student with no part-time job.
In terms of mental health, it is a well-known fact that both CAMHS and adult mental health services waiting lists were long before a pandemic.
Many younger service users were unable to speak to their counsellors in person, and there may have been an increase in people seeking help for the first time because of the pandemic. How will they be supported?
Serious questions remain about how the government will best support young people as they head into an uncertain future.
There are those who will say that Covid-19 concerns young people far less than their elders. But rather than passing them by, Covid-19 has compounded the risks faced by a generation who came of age in one global economic crisis, and are now destined to endure another.
For many young people, the idea that their generation would be better off than that of their parents has taken a heavy blow. Whether it be the cost of education and housing, the growth of precarious work, the impact of climate change or the burgeoning crisis in mental health, there is much to suggest that the future, for Irish young people, simply isn’t what it used to be.
In the illuminating My World Survey, published by UCD and Jigsaw in November 2019, respondents were asked to name the aspects of their lives that brought them the most stress.
Alongside exams and finance, “the future” was among the top three most salient endorsed stressors for young adults. This bears thinking about. Though it may seem a world away, the Ireland of November 2019 was one in which most indicators of economic growth were strong, where unemployment was low, and where the country was often praised as a post-recession success story.
And yet, that was a country in which large numbers of young people found themselves increasingly stressed about the future. Looking back, it’s hard not to concede that at least some of that concern was well-placed: no sooner had the 2020s begun, than an unprecedented and unpredicted global health emergency brought the lives of so many young people to a shuddering halt.
For those in full-time education, the experience of 2020 has been equally unsettling. With schools and colleges shuttered, the prospects for summer exams waxed and waned with each announcement from the Department of Education.
For many students this was a significant inconvenience; for those who had spent two or more years preparing for their Leaving Certificates, it was close to unbearable. The delay and indecision no doubt took a heavy toll on the mental health of the class of 2020. Now, they face the prospect of a truncated and remote college education, after months of unnecessary stress.
The picture is even less heartening for those coming to the end of their third-level education, and for those who planned to enter the jobs market directly after leaving school. If the past is any guide, we should expect a newly-depressed economy to be a tough place for first-time job-seekers, even after the threat of the virus subsides. For the second time in little over a decade, we are perilously close to a full-blown crisis in youth unemployment.
All of these factors are having an understandable effect on a generation who were already apprehensive about what the future held. More than half (52%) of all messages to ‘50808’, a free crisis support service launched this year, have involved anxiety or stress.
Many young people have reported negative effects on their mental health, with significant numbers concerned about their education and the uncertainty of the world in which they live.
Statements like the above must surely cut to the heart of our self-image as a modern, developed and caring country. Yet there is no reason her prophecy needs to be fulfilled. Each of the issues raised above have direct and achievable political solutions.
In the short term, we must continue to recognise that younger workers need their incomes supported while the risk of fully reopening society remains. Thinking bigger, the lack of immediate job opportunities creates space and time for younger workers to return to education or upskill - all that is lacking is the funding to make it a viable choice.
The college experience for our current undergraduates would be bolstered by an influx of investment as our third-level institutions grapple with the loss of overseas student fees.
But improving young people’s long-term economic opportunities is only part of the story. As the numbers reporting anxiety and stress continue to grow, sustained investment in youth mental health services, and reliable funding for youth work services, are more necessary now than they have ever been.
By taking a holistic view of its role in a young person’s welfare, the state can ensure that for many of our young people, the future need no longer be a source of worry.
A pandemic like Covid-19 was never something I had thought about. Never did I think I would be spending four months at home because going to work wouldn’t be safe.
However, as I talk to my friends and family, I can’t help but feel ripped off. Growing up we’re told we’ll have plenty of time for nights out, holidays and spontaneity once we’ve completed school and college.
Parents, family and neighbours were only too quick to tell you about the fun they had in their twenties. “You have your whole life ahead of you”, they said.
So, I went to college for three years with grants, worked hard and graduated. I got a job, and felt like at last this was finally my time to go out, have fun, plan holidays and enjoy my twenties. Then Covid-19 came and changed everything. We got told to stay in, not see our friends and wait.
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, the first few months of lockdown were extremely difficult. Not only was I struggling in the present, but the constant worry of what was to come and the uncertainty that ensnared us all was paralysing.
I work as a preschool teacher in a primary school, and as talks of a second wave in the winter get louder and louder, I’m worried that the dark nights will bring back the darkness.
I’m looking forward to going back to work so much that the thoughts that the schools may close again is just too much to really think about.
Covid-19 has not just affected my short-term plans, but it has also affected my ability to plan long term too. My partner and I were beginning to talk about getting a mortgage and buying our first apartment before Covid-19.
Where would we live? How many bedrooms? What colours would we paint the walls? Now it feels futile to plan anything long term as we just have no idea what the next month will bring let alone the next year.
How are we supposed to feel secure enough to make the biggest financial decision of our lives, when so many people are losing their jobs and stability each day?
The easing of restrictions however has brought rays of hope. With each reunion with a loved one, I feel optimistic, grateful and feel the darkness lose control over me. I feel mostly free of its grips and hopeful that we will get our lives back, eventually.
One thing I know is that there needs to be more support for young people during this time, because not only has it affected what we thought our present would be, but Covid-19 continues to affect our ability to make any plans for the future.
Although Covid-19 has not led to substantial changes to my long-term plans, short-term, it has led to huge upheaval in my life. I have lost my job, my social life has possibly been destroyed, and my view of the world has been moulded in a shape that I never thought possible.
My long-term plan has been to change career in 2020 for some time, and although Covid-19 has made this more difficult I still intend to press ahead with it.
Moving from a marketing executive role to being a secondary school teacher was always going to be a huge change - even in the best of times. But with the looming threat of school closures, disruption to third level education, and unknown changes to working practices – to say the future is cloudy would be an understatement.
When you add to this losing my job having a huge effect on my personal finances, and it's easy to arrive at a position of self-doubt in making such a change.
Like most people I have been able to make almost no short-term plans. Holidays, day trips, and even going for a drink seem to be massive ordeals now. With pubs/restaurants/cafes now open nearly a month I am still yet to see a major influx of social groups back to these establishments, certainly in the 18-30 age category.
We cannot play down the effect that social isolation has on the mental health of young people – me included. The ongoing monotony of Netflix, Zoom quizzes, and online poker games is no substitute for the meeting of like-minded individuals to discuss trivial matters for hours on end.
A lack of social interaction leads to feelings of depression and anxiety. I’m lucky to have the coping mechanisms to deal with mental health issues, but for people who don’t, emerging from their solitary shelter will be very difficult - even if the threat of contracting the virus becomes non-existent.
In 2020 uncertainty comes in many forms. Uncertainty in our health and wellbeing, uncertainty in our careers and education, and uncertainty in our social environments. We’ve battled to flatten to curve, but the battle to regain our previous lives has just begun. The only certainty is this – there will be more uncertainty to follow.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have impacted all our lives. As a Leaving Cert student, I like the rest of my peers have been strapped into a rollercoaster of emotions that we are yet to disembark from. In my own case the lockdown had initially appeared to be a blessing.
I was diagnosed with narcolepsy late in fifth year, which has impacted my grades and ability to study. I had failed Maths and Irish in my mocks, and had poor grades throughout the Leaving Cert cycle. The lockdown gave me an opportunity at redemption and all in the comfort of my own home, which I took full advantage of.
I felt hopeful and confident that I could achieve the necessary grades to take a place at Queen's University Belfast, or the University of Limerick. Then the exams were cancelled. This was not a shock, I had suspected for some time that this would be the case.
Thinking about the year ahead, I may re-sit certain subjects in November, at which point why shouldn’t I just repeat the whole Leaving Cert? Repeating the whole year is an option, but I just can’t see myself resitting Leaving Cert and dealing with the stress that comes with that. Either way I’d have to forgo college for a year, and then what would I do?
I had received a conditional offer to study at Queen’s University Belfast, but the odds seem to be aligned against me now. Having family in the North, I know that most students have received full offers, despite not yet having their predicted A-level results.
Leaving Cert students here in the Republic are at a major disadvantage when it comes to securing one of the limited places left in UK colleges.
The alternative and my first choice on the CAO was the University of Limerick. Securing a place in UL will hopefully be easier, but college in both UL or Queens will likely be mainly online for the first year.
For some courses this isn’t too bad, but it does make me rethink whether I should go to college this year, when learning and making friends will be much harder.
Then I think, should I just go and do an apprenticeship as many of my friends are doing? With my narcolepsy is that even possible? The more time I’ve had to think, the more I’ve realised college may be a poor choice. For most of the courses, bar maybe computer science and a few specific courses in certain institutions, there could be bad career prospects once you finish the course.
I haven’t even factored into my thinking a second or third wave, and more subsequent lockdowns, which could mean very little time on campus.
All in all, if there's one thing 2020 has taught me is that the days of stability are over. I think I’ll just have to cross these bridges when I come to them.
September 2020 was one that was meant to change my life. I was to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study for a year in Texas State University.
Being the only person in my family to attend university, the fact the I was now also going to America for a year was just incredible. It seemed too good to be true - which it now seems it is. The world has completely changed and my plans within it.
As of right now, I do not really know what the next year of my life will look like. Officially I am to stay in UCC for semester one, and then attend Texas State University for semester two. But if I am being realistic, with how bad things are going in America - especially in Texas - I can practically see this opportunity slipping away from me.
At twenty years of age all I have ever really known is the education system. Next year was my chance to experience being an adult, while still in a somewhat familiar environment.
The next two years of my life, which seemed so clearly laid out in front of me are now in a complete mess. The reality that I might be graduating college in just a few months' time is starting to set in.
Graduating college so soon brings into sharp focus the fact that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I am at a loss as to do. I know that once I graduate I need a job - preferably one in my chosen field, but any at all really.
This brings into focus the unanswered question of what the economy will be like over the next few years. Are we headed back into a recession? If we are, who will want to hire a 20-year-old, fresh out of college, with no experience?
I have now gone from a hiring pool of mainly just my peers, to one with people with twenty years of experience, having just lost their job.
One thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has most certainly brought into my life is uncertainty. My plan, which I had once so carefully cultivated has been irreversible change. This brings about one comforting thought: that the whole world is also filled with this uncertainty. I am not alone.
As one of the many thousands across Ireland who's recently finished my third level degree, Covid-19 has put a huge amount of uncertainty on my future plans. Like many of my classmates, I had plans to gain valuable work experience to help kickstart my career in the field of Medical Biotechnology.
However, due to the pandemic, my paid internship in the Netherlands was cancelled. This now means that as a fresh graduate I don't have the practical work experience in a professional environment that would have given me that edge to stand out amongst other job applicants.
These last few months have taken a major toll on everyone’s mental health, which will certainly have long-term impacts over the months and years to come. Being in the final year of your degree is stressful enough as it is, without a global pandemic changing everything.
Thousands of students and teaching staff had to adapt to online teaching, adding further to the uncertainty for final year students.
I was very lucky, being a student in IT Sligo, where many of my lecturers already have experience teaching courses online. Having gotten through final year exams via online methods, I’ve been reminded that I can always further my education online in the future should I need to.
Not only endocrinology, but other services such as counselling and voice training therapy, which are all very crucial for the wellbeing of transgender patients.
I am very lucky to have been in a part-time job two years ago that allowed me to save up and go abroad to Belfast to start therapy privately, and it’s now been one whole year since I had my top surgery (a double mastectomy) in Warsaw, Poland. However, my financial situation has changed quite a bit since then.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to kickstart my career as a fresh graduate, I am lucky to be living independently as a young LGBTQ+ person. I can only imagine what the lockdown restrictions have meant for other young queer folk who have been forced into isolation with less-than-accepting family members. This will have a big impact on peoples' mental health going forward.
Despite the widespread impact that Covid-19 has had, it hasn’t managed to put a damper on Pride celebrations. I was given a wonderful opportunity to help with Pride Inside in July. This gave us a chance to learn new skills for delivering online events. The future is becoming ever more digital, and hopefully this will make it more accessible for everyone.
While nothing about a global pandemic has been ideal, the impact of Covid-19 on our social behaviours does make me hopeful for the future in our ability to adapt to unexpected circumstances.
This pandemic has definitely affected my future plans. I had hoped to start college this September, after finally deciding what I want to study. The uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen with schools and colleges has given me a lot of anxiety.
I want everyone to be safe, but I also am so eager to start a new chapter of my life. I plan on studying TV and Film Production at Dundalk IT, but it is a very hands-on course and just can’t be done remotely. I, along with many other students, have been left in the dark.
I have heard many things, such as the courses being done 50% in college and 50% at home. This is not ideal for me as I live in Kilkenny. I can’t afford to travel up and down the country each week. I have also applied for accommodation that I don’t even know if I’ll be allowed to live in.
I feel I won’t get the proper college experience if I’m doing my course from home. The opportunities and social interaction won’t be the same through a computer screen. Meeting people for the first time through a Zoom call is just not ideal.
This year I had the pleasure of starting a post-Leaving Certificate course. I had months of interaction with my now-friends before the pandemic happened. If the course started online, I truly don’t think I would have the same bond with them as I do now.
Dundalk has numerous clubs and societies I’d love to take part in, such as dance and a comedy club. I believe joining extracurricular activities is so important to meet new people outside of your course, but this is something I may now miss out on.
I think more and more everyday that maybe I should just reapply next year. Honestly it’s hard to say that anything will be different in a year's time. Things may be more organised but I can’t see this situation changing for a long time.
As a person with mental health issues, the uncertainty of the future has taken a massive toll on my health. My advice to fellow students who are feeling the same is to talk to the people in your life. You are not the only person feeling this way, and we need to do what we can to support each other in these difficult times.
I honestly can’t see colleges or schools ever go back to normal. It makes me feel very frustrated, because deciding to take the next leap to college is hard enough without all the uncertainty on top of it.
The Covid-19 pandemic is set to take a massive toll on the economy here in Ireland, with talk of another big recession to follow in its wake. This recession would be the second I've lived through.
In the short term, it’s likely to be more difficult to find part-time employment to sustain myself, especially if restrictions are tightened again. It will also have a major impact on my education. Blended or digital learning is set to continue for the foreseeable future. I personally found it really difficult to engage with this type of learning and to stay focused last semester.
I was surprised how difficult it was to find the energy to attend the virtual classes which themselves are far less effective than face-to-face, so I think it will have a negative effect on my grades.
In the long-term I believe it will become far more difficult to find an internship and professional experience in my desired field of work. My course has internships in 3rd year, which I was due to start in September, but cancelling these is of grave concern to me, as professional experience is vital to getting a job in the field I want to work.
Ireland already has one of the highest costs of living in Europe, which along with the increased lack of job security associated with the impending economic crisis, makes for a very compelling push to emigrate.
Having to start seriously consider leaving everything behind, to start afresh in a more affordable country, is not a fantastic prospect to look towards.
Many of my peers have also started to take the idea of emigrating seriously now, especially those studying in the health sciences.
Some of them have experienced the worst of the pandemic on the frontlines, and the poor working conditions, not to mention students on placement weren’t actually given any compensation for putting their lives at risk. That has taken a toll on them too.
The pandemic to date has definitely taken a toll on my health, both mental and physical. Virtual learning coupled with studying during the semester meant that I stayed fixed at my desk for large portions of the day, leaving little to no time for physical exercise.
My sleep schedule was also heavily disrupted by this lack of routine frequently leaving me tired and in a cycle of oversleeping during the weekend and undersleeping during the week. Still being in the dark about the exact nature of how the upcoming college year will play out leaves a real possibility of that trend continuing.
Of course a drop in physical health takes its toll on your mental health. Aside from the isolation that everyone experienced during the height of the restrictions, having a seemingly endless to-do list on little sleep has not helped my mental health. I fear that this will continue in the new semester.
When I think about the future, it is uncertain and unclear. I should be feeling lost and fearful for the future, yet that is not the case. Instead, I feel an overwhelming sense of hope and excitement for what lies ahead.
This is because we live in a country where we have access to healthcare if needed, where doctors, to receptionists, to cleaners, are tirelessly working to keep us all safe. For that I am so grateful.
To the essential workers holding our country together, from collecting the bins to deciding governmental policy, I am so thankful. To everyone doing their part, staying home, keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing masks, we are protecting our community. For that I am so proud.
Although we may not know what is waiting for us in the future, I know that we can get through and overcome whatever obstacles are thrown at us, together.
I am a Traveller and live on a halting site in Coolock in Dublin. Where I’m living is hard during Covid. We only have electricity from our own generators, so there would often be power cuts. We also had no water, and the council put some in during Covid which was helpful. Hopefully after the pandemic they’ll do more.
I worked hard this year in school and was due to sit my Leaving Cert. I’m pretty okay with predictive grades for the Leaving Cert, but with no laptop at home it was hard to keep up with online classes and homework. At home I would just have my phone.
Here’s hoping, as I definitely want to go on and get more qualifications in the future.
Covid ruined my plans to transition. I recently came out to close family, but I can't go to my doctor to get put on the five-year waiting lists for any sort of gender therapy. It ruined my friendships, it ruined my chances at bettering myself. It left me in an abusive home. I might be 21, but my parents treat me like a small child.
As a result of the pandemic, all of my plans are basically on hold until next year at the earliest. My partner and I were planning on going travelling in October, specifically we wanted to visit New Zealand. Visas were approved, and flights were booked and paid in full.
But the pandemic caused the borders to close, and they remain closed with no date given as to when they will open to foreigners again. Even if they were to open later this year, I wouldn't be in a position to travel, as like many, I was made unemployed during the lockdown.
I graduated UCD in 2019. I had planned to work for one year and then to go abroad to Belgium to study a Masters in International Politics. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic I don't feel safe traveling abroad and I have deferred my studies until next year.
It is a one-year course and I don't want to spend that year stuck in my house, unable to enjoy the new country I will be living in. This means another year of living at home with my family.
After starting my own business three years ago, in the arts sector, I was finally after building up a client base, and a great following and brand.
When Covid-19 hit, I had to close on March 14, and I remain closed until September. I worry about the future of my business, the hours I must put in to build it back up again, and I worry about the staff that rely on me to make it work.
My husband, who also works in the arts and events sector and is highly qualified in his field of work, has also been out of work for six months and for the foreseeable future. It has caused us a lot of stress and worry.
Covid-19 has made the last few months feel like a pile-on collision: as soon as you think it's over another car comes flying around the corner to join the fray. Sixth year is supposed to be a difficult time in our lives, but with this pandemic, it feels like I've been running a marathon for six years, only to find out that there isn't a finish line.
With no graduation in sight, and predicted grades being an unknown variable, it's been a time of great anxiety. Looking for accommodation in Dublin is hard enough on a good day, but the way things are now most of us will be lucky to find somewhere before college is supposed to begin.
Between the months of false and slow information, the stressful online classes and the isolation from the people I've spent the last six years of my life with, it's been a weird period of my life.
Last August, I decided to defer my place in college in order to save as my course is in Dublin. When the pandemic occurred, I was not worried at first, but as it worsened I became concerned about moving to Dublin next year.
I’m worried about moving out to somewhere completely new during a pandemic and being surrounded by new people.
I was supposed to graduate from my degree this year. Because of Covid, and the quarantine restrictions placed, my mental health took a nosedive, and all my usual supports were suddenly gone.
I was meant to be running music events and joinng a music events company over the summer, which has been cancelled. I'm now trying to repeat the assignments I've been unable to do, and I won't be graduating till next year.
Hopefully I'll actually get a graduation next time around, and not just an online one. The future is uncertain where I had once had plans, plans to graduate and join my dream industry. Now, I'm back in mental health services hoping for everything to ease off.