Everyone is freaking out, said Delilah Stephens, bluntly explaining the situation at her London secondary school, where the new lockdown rules have prompted more chaos than clarity.
Sports are cancelled, after-school activities have been suspended and lunchtime jam sessions in the music room are a distant memory. Stephens, 15, has her GCSE mocks in a month and there is a distinct possibility the results will determine her final grades if exams are disrupted again next summer. So many people are on the verge of giving up, she said, utterly despondent. We need so much more motivation to get through it.
Last month, the Department for Education collated health data and multiple studies to publish a comprehensive report charting the effect the pandemic has had on those aged between five and 24. It found that isolation from friends, learning from home and worrying about family members have been key triggers for poor mental health.
Cases of anxiety, depression andbehavioural and eating disorders have risen. Those with existing problems and who suffer digital poverty a lack of internet access, laptops and electronic devices have been especially affected by not being able to find treatment on or offline. The mental wellbeing of children and young people is of critical concern to clinicians and researchers, who fear the long-term impact will be as damaging as the more immediate Covid spike. So how are Britains young coping with a second lockdown?
Its not really lockdown, is it, if all the schools are open and the Tube is packed? said 13-year-old Carmen Stephens who, like her sister Delilah, has an hour-long commute to and from school. The rules dont make sense. It is crazy that were allowed to sit together with friends all day but not allowed to go near each other outside the school gates, she said.
The inconsistencies have incensed parents and campaigners. Ashley Levien, who runs KickOff@3, a not-for-profit organisation primarily working with disadvantaged young black people in London, is aghast at the ban on sport. Football is an energy release and a safe space for these young people, away from postcode violence and difficulties at home. A lot of them might have invisible disabilities, like dyslexia and ADHD, and its already been difficult to re-engage them since the first lockdown. Our young people are resilient, but theyre the ones who will feel this the most.
Alongside co-founder Michael Wallace, Levien coaches grassroots football teams and mentors teenagers. Both say the restrictions of the second lockdown will further alienate and damage young boys already struggling to cope. Young people find it difficult to control emotions and feelings, said Wallace. They dont have the experience we have as adults, and now they have nowhere to let off steam.
In the spring Carmen told the Observer that she was worried we would still in lockdown even at Christmas, while Delilah, especially, felt cheated: I feel really stressed by how much work I have to do. I hate online learning because I cant focus, and Im worried Im missing out on all these important years. I just want to be with my friends.
Six months on, little had changed.
Delilah had bleached her hair and dyed it about 10 different colours as a distraction, while Carmen was working on her mendhi (henna tattoo) skills. The sisters also felt sorry for their younger siblings Rafi, 14 months, and Lucia, five who are affected in different ways.
Rafi is at the age where he just wants to bite and kiss and play all the things you cant do and he has so much energy and curiosity about seeing other children, said their mother, Sonia. Lucias become even more of a home body: she just wants to stay at home. The lack of playdates and social normality for their younger ones worried both parents, who moved the family from inner London to Chingford last year, to give the children more space and freedom.
More than a dozen parents who spoke to the Observer confirmed similar anxieties around the social and physical development of their children. One, who wished to remain anonymous, felt it was a disgrace that outdoor sports had been stopped while childhood obesity is such a problem. They said: Yet again, were sacrificing our childrens health to protect the elderly. We need to let our kids live their lives freely. They should be the priority, not those who have already lived their lives.
Others were more sympathetic towards the vulnerable. Amie Jordan, an artist and mother to seven-year-old Jasper, felt strongly that sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.
If the government had done a better job, we wouldnt be in this position now, she said. I wouldnt be potentially facing another meltdown of epic proportions over Christmas with a miserable child desperate to see all the people hes barely seen for the best part of a year.
The Jordans live in a bungalow in Salford, surrounded by a cluster of cul-de-sacs connected by the school and a strong community of parents and schoolmates, but they have struggled to stay afloat. Amie has had much of her work cancelled throughout this year and has dug deep into her savings.
I do make a point of never letting him see if Im struggling. Ill go without to make sure he has food and clothes and whatever it is he needs, she said, but there were days where financial worries made her quieter and her son noticed. Inadvertently, the stress about the money is having an effect on him because hes worrying about me. Hes seven years old. This shouldnt even be a thought process. It isnt acceptable.
Jasper was a worrier before the pandemic, she said, but lockdown escalated his anxieties, and he has suffered intense periods of crying and panic attacks. Some days were just a write-off from the start, said Amie, 28, who tried desperately to keep her son happy and at ease. Some days he couldnt even tell me why he was crying. He just was, and couldnt explain why he felt so sad. Both hope things will be different now, while schools stay open.
Jaspers first question about the next month had been to ask if Just Eat would still deliver takeaways on Friday nights. His biggest concerns are food but, more seriously, socialising and contact with others. His friends are so close, but he cant get to them.
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