Rise in depressive symptoms among young due to pandemic – study

Children and young adults report low mood and consumption of ‘junk food and sweets’

More than 10 per cent of 22-year-olds felt they had missed out on needed mental health support because of the pandemic, according to a new study.

It was also observed that children and young people reported increases in symptoms of low mood and the consumption of “junk food and sweets”. This latter was more common for girls and young women.

Meanwhile, the proportion of young adults with raised levels of depressive symptoms due to the pandemic have risen from 27 per cent to 48 per cent. Children and young people in low-income families were also found to be more likely to report living with someone vulnerable to severe Covid-19.

These are among findings in a report published on Friday following a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute and and Trinity College Dublin.

It looked at the Covid-19 experiences for children and young adults participating in Growing Up in Ireland, the national longitudinal study of children and young people.

Last December, as Ireland was relaxing Level 5 restrictions after the second wave of Covid-19, both cohorts of Growing Up in Ireland (one group of 12-year-olds and their parents and another of 22-year-old adults) completed a short online survey about their experiences of the pandemic up to that point, resulting in this report.

More than one-third of 22-year-olds and a quarter of 12-year-olds were in a household with at least one person who was thought to be at increased risk of severe Covid-19. Just half, in both age-groups, said it was “always true” that they had a quiet place to study while learning at home, while those in low-income families were less likely to have a quiet place to study or adequate internet access.

About 10 per cent of 22-year-olds, and a similar proportion of parents of 12-year-olds, were experiencing financial strain – particularly those in low-income families.

Time with family

A majority of 22-year-olds (72 per cent) were living with their parents, while more than 20 per cent had returned to the family home during the pandemic.

For both age cohorts the activities which increased most during the pandemic up to then were talking to friends online/by phone and spending time with family, as well as informal screen time.

The biggest change for 12-year-olds was a drop of 59 per cent in taking part in organised cultural activities, while for the 22-year-olds it was a 81 per cent drop in time spent with friends.

However, and whatever the difficulties last December, most participants in both groups were positive about the future: 72 per cent of 22-year-olds “strongly agreed/agreed” they were optimistic about their future while 88 per cent of parents were optimistic about their 12-year-olds’ future.