Supporting our youth through the pandemic

Helen Isenhour

For the youth of the Central Coast, COVID-19 has brought its challenges, and as schools start up again for 2021, many are hoping the year will be a little less disruptive.

One of those optimistic about the coming school year is Central Coast Council of P&Cs President, Sharryn Brownlee, who said schools are more equipped to deal with the struggles of the pandemic.

“I think schools are in a much better position this year to look after students from an online learning platform and around the disruption at home with family and work,” Brownlee said.

“There is a deeper understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and the fear it has in the community and families.”

“Schools are better placed now; there is more training in place for them, and there is better mental health first aid through schools as mandatory training, so that will help teachers identify children that are frightened or worried.”

According to Mission Australia’s 2020 annual Youth Survey of 25,800 young people aged 15-19, COVID-19 and Mental Health were in the top three concerns of young people.

Almost 40 per cent of those concerned about COVID-19 said their biggest worry was on the pandemic’s impact on education.

Brownlee said the biggest concern she has for this year’s academic year is how schools will monitor at-home online learning.

“What we are concerned about is the inequality between the digital and in-school learning platforms, and if we go into another situation, we want to make sure that children are not left behind, such as those students who don’t have access to the internet or a quiet place to study,” she said.

A disturbance in education has not been the only issue to come out of the pandemic.

Headspace Gosford and Lake Haven Manager, Helen Isenhour, said anxiety and depression are still the top presenting needs for young people, however, loneliness has been an increasing concern.

“Now you have things like loneliness that are creeping in, which had never even touched the sides before,” Isenhour said.

“Generally it has often been quoted that young people are among some of the most affected people, because of the disruption in education, poignant issues that have arisen out of COIVD, and also social isolation.

“Also, I think a lot of young people also see the future quite differently and are quite unsure about the future.

“There have been constant changes which are out of their control, and they have high volumes of information coming at them, which can change daily or numerous times a day.

“The other thing that I have noticed is a lot of young people generally are starting to feel that this world is fairly unpredictable.

“And on top of other things which are happening around the world, the world is starting to feel quite unsafe.”

With loneliness comes other issues such as lack of intimacy and the breakdown of social connections.

A lack of intimacy among single young people is something the NSW Government tried to address when releasing articles on information relating to COVID-19 and sex on their Play Safe website.

Everything you need to know about sex and COVID-19; Can you get COVID-19 from sex; and Is mutual masturbation the safest sex during COVID-19 were just some of the well-read topics covered on the site, according to a Play Safe spokesperson.

Brownlee said schools need to try not put too much pressure on families at home.

“Schools are a place for learning and schools need to take responsibility for that burden and not push too much back home to families,” Brownlee said.

Isenhour said it was important for young people to stay connected with friends and a support network, sleep well, eat well, have a routine and get out and about.

Jacinta Counihan