'People don't understand the effect it's had on us' - The mental health toll on Wales' young people

  • Watch the report by Hannah Gamlin for Wales This Week

A lack of motivation and fears for the future.

Those are just some of the mental health effects Wales' young people say the coronavirus pandemic has had on them.

It comes as more than two thirds of young people have felt their mental health has worsened over the pandemic, exclusive research seen by ITV Wales shows.

Wales This Week, ITV Wales' current affairs programme, has been given access to a report being published later this week by the charity Mind Cymru, which paints a bleak picture of how the pandemic has impacted the youngest members of society. 

Nearly 90% of people who said their mental health worsened in 2020 said it was feelings of loneliness which made their mental health worse.

Charity director Susan O'Leary said more investment in mental health services will be needed to help young people "combat some of the negative impacts" experienced during the pandemic.

She said, "They will need support to recover from what’s been a traumatic experience over the period of the lockdown and the restrictions. Young people will need more investment in services and support that help to combat loneliness and combat some of the negative impacts that have been experienced over this period."

Tia and Cara both have fears about the impact the pandemic has had on them and their future

It is still too early to say exactly how many young people may have been diagnosed with a mental health condition due to the pandemic, but of those who have struggled through lockdown, it is older adolescents who have been hit hardest.

Tia Camilleri and Cara Walker are A-Level students in Cardiff. They are at a crucial time in their lives and their education. 

“I think fear for the future is the main thing that a lot of us are feeling", Tia said.

"Because I think these are very vital years in terms of career progression, education progression, figuring out what we want to do. I don’t think people really understand the position we were in and how much of an effect it’s had on us.”

"I became a lot less motivated and focussed for certain periods", Cara said. "It definitely did stress me out because knowing that I couldn’t reach my full potential because of the circumstances we were in."

Cara said she became "a lot less motivated" during lockdown

“Your social life is a really important part of adolescent development", Sally Holland, Children's Commissioner for Wales told the programme.

"They develop their identity and lots of knowledge through their friendships and networks, so it's actually really important thing for them.”  

The Welsh Government said it is working to protect young people’s mental health despite the pandemic. Over recent years It has created toolkits, funding, and support for children both in and out of school. But it recognises that children and young people have been especially affected by this last year.  

Despite the difficulties of lockdown, some young people in Wales have found a number of different ways to manage their mental health.

Ela, 19, teaches self-defence to young people every week which helps manage her depression

Three quarters of children coped by going outside and almost half said they have picked up good habits or hobbies during the pandemic. 

 Every week, 19-year-old Ela Cudlip goes to the Engine house in Dowlais to teach self defence to younger children.

“People suffering with depression like myself - it’s really hard to pull yourself out of that negative mindset all the time, especially if you're stuck inside", Ela said.

"The fact that I can go somewhere for an hour - just for an hour - to break away from that, it’s just amazing. I went through a lot, but I’m proud of where I’ve come out.” 

With life now slowly returning to normal, nearly half of all children in Wales think that will mean their mental health will too.

Nearly three out of four young people say Covid has changed how they think about mental health, and it is thought children are speaking about their feelings more than ever before.

Sally Holland said, “I get really frustrated when i hear people saying things like this is a really lost generation and we have failed our children during this time because i can’t imagine a worse thing to be hearing actually. its really important for your mental health that you feel hope.”