The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on children and young adults, with mental health, learning resources and support networks among the issues affected, according to a report.
A survey found the pandemic has had a notable impact on young people from low-income families around access to the internet and finding a quiet place to study, while they also saw a higher likelihood of living with someone vulnerable to the virus.
It revealed that the proportion of young adults reporting depressive symptoms increased substantially from pre-pandemic levels, from 27% to 48%.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin have published the results of a survey of Covid-19 experiences for children and young adults who are participating in the Growing Up in Ireland scheme.
These first insights highlight the extent of changes to everyday life as a result of the pandemic and point to likely inequalities in its impact.
In December 2020, both cohorts of Growing Up in Ireland – one group of 12-year-olds and their parents, and one group of 22-year-old adults – completed a online survey about their experiences of the pandemic up to that point.
The survey asked them about changes to their education, work and lifestyles.
The findings of the survey highlight the variation between individuals and the unequal impact on different socio-economic groups.
The survey found that more than 10% of 22-year-olds felt they had missed out on necessary mental health support because of the pandemic.
However, most 22-year-olds felt they had someone to talk to about problems and who could offer practical help if they got ill.
For both age cohorts, the activities which increased the most were talking to friends online or by phone, spending time with family and informal screen time.
The biggest decrease for 12-year-olds was participating in organised cultural activities, but for 22-year-olds it was the reduction in meeting friends.
This snapshot of changes to the lived experience of participants is important for the potential shift in the life-course pathways for individualsDr Aisling Murray, ESRI
Many 22-year-olds reported changes in their patterns of sleep, smoking and drinking – but varied in whether they did more or less than usual.
Many parents of 12-year-olds reported enjoying time with their family and doing more activities together, but they also had less time to themselves.
Only half of students – in both age groups – said it was “always true” that they had a quiet place to study while learning at home.
Third-level students were more likely to have a suitable computer and access to online classes than those in primary or secondary school.
Students in both cohorts were less likely to have a quiet place to study or adequate internet if they were from low-income families.
Parents were the most frequent important source of information about Covid-19 for 12-year-olds at 80%, but for 22-year-olds it was watching or reading the news.
Over a 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 disease.
Low-income families in both cohorts were more likely to report living with someone vulnerable to severe Covid-19 disease.
The proportion of young adults reporting depressive symptoms increased substantially from pre-pandemic levels at age 20, from 27% to 48%.
While many participants in both cohorts reported increases in symptoms of low mood and the consumption of “junk food and sweets”, this was more common for girls and young women.
Dr Aisling Murray, senior research officer at the ESRI and one of the report’s authors, said: “This snapshot of changes to the lived experience of Growing Up in Ireland participants is important not just for the short-term impact but the potential shift in the life-course pathways for individuals.
“Especially given the timing around milestone transitions for 12-year-olds starting secondary school and 22-year-olds taking their first steps on the career ladder.”
Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, said: “Growing Up in Ireland is exactly the kind of study we need to investigate the effects that Covif-19 is having, and will have, on the lives of children, young people and parents.”