A new Mission Australia report reveals that young people who said COVID-19 was their biggest issue in 2020 were most concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their education, experience of isolation and mental health. The young people hardest hit by these issues were those living in Victoria, and 17-year-olds were most likely to say their education was severely impacted by COVID-19.

The Young Voices of the Pandemic: Youth Survey COVID Report 2020 brings to life reflections on the experience of living through the pandemic between April and August 2020 through voices and perspectives from young people in Australia aged between 15 and 19. In a first for Mission Australia, this Youth Survey report takes a deep dive into young people’s written responses to better understand the nature and experience of their biggest personal issues. 

Young Victorians were more likely to report COVID-19 was the biggest issue they had been facing than their peers in other States and Territories. Additionally, young people in Victoria were more likely to be concerned about COVID-19 affecting their education, isolation and mental health than young people residing in other States and Territories. 

Nationally, four in 10 (41.1%) respondents who said COVID-19 affected their education were 17 years old, indicating those in their senior years of school were severely impacted by the pandemic. More than one third (34.4%) of respondents who reported COVID-19 and education was their top personal concern were living in Victoria.

Almost half (43.9%) of the young people who revealed personal concerns in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on being and feeling isolated were living in Victoria. Nationally, more than two thirds of those reporting mental health concerns due to COVID-19 were young females (68.9% of females compared with 23.9% of males).

Young people affected by COVID-19 described disruptions to their everyday lives as making them feel worried and stressed and without access to their usual supports. 

Mission Australia’s CEO, James Toomey said: “These findings make clear the breadth and depth of the toll that COVID-19 has had on young people living in Australia. Major disruptions to education, increased isolation from peers, family and community, and mental health concerns understandably featured heavily within young people’s responses.

The severe impact of the pandemic on young Victorians in particular is not unexpected, given these young people endured Australia’s longest lockdown in 2020 and extended school closures.
The pandemic is still in play. With lockdowns and tighter restrictions recently triggered in response to COVID-19, we must take heed of what young people told us about their experiences and solutions in 2020. 
We are very concerned that the impact of this virus will continue to have flow-on effects on young people’s lives now, and their futures. To best support our young people and mitigate any negative consequences they may face due to the pandemic, we must begin by listening to them and ensure that the right supports and systems are in place.”

In response to the new findings, Mission Australia says there were a range of solutions put forward by young people that should be implemented, including:

  • Support for young people to understand when and how to help themselves when feeling overwhelmed and stressed with study, when feeling isolated and when experiencing poor mental wellbeing.
  • Extra support for young people in schools to support their wellbeing and in completing final years of school during COVID-19 restrictions to make sure they can achieve their educational goals.
  • Mental health prevention and early intervention supports delivered in flexible formats to address wellbeing issues that may arise during isolation periods.
  • More services and resources to support the mental wellbeing of young people, including through schools and outreach programs. 

Mr Toomey added: “In 2020 in particular, there were extensive interruptions to young people’s education, pushing many into the uncertain world of remote learning. We’re not out of the woods yet. These findings reinforce that many young people in Australia completing their final years of school during COVID-19 restrictions may need extra support to achieve their goals. 

“It’s encouraging to see governments are continuing to support the needs of young people, particularly at this challenging time. For example, just last week we saw the NSW State Government extend the Stay Healthy HSC Hub partnership with ReachOut. 

“Despite various levels of government investing in mental health, there are still large gaps in the mental health system that have been laid bare by COVID-19 – particularly for those who are vulnerable or marginalised. 

“From the get-go, governments, services and organisations should prioritise engaging young people to design solutions that will best support them at this crucial time in their lives, backed with relevant and current evidence.”

A total of 18,486 young people who took part in the Youth Survey 2020 responded to the open text question which was the focus of this report: ‘In the past year, what is the biggest issue that you have been dealing with? What do you think needs to be done about it?’. This report analyses the responses of the 953 young people who reported COVID-19 impacted on their education, isolation and mental health. 

Young Voices of the Pandemic: Youth Survey COVID Report 2020

Young Voices of the Pandemic: Youth Survey COVID Report 2020 infographic

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