The effects of Covid 19 on youth mental health in Ireland and the barriers to accessing mental health services
By Brona Flynn
Studying Health and Social Care at the University of Sunderland has provided me with a broad and diverse view of understanding the social world. Social diversity has always sparked a great passion within me. When I read through the course outline, I knew this was for me. What I didn’t realise was the other benefits like the connections and outstanding support I have received from my fellow pupils and lecturers. I love learning about how our environments implement our behaviour and broad topics like Domestic Violence. I know the knowledge gathered from the Health and Social Care course will aid my progression within the Non for Profit platform, ideally holding a Directors position in the future as my main goal.
This is an example of my course work that I have submitted for module SSC113:
The effects of Covid 19 on youth mental health in Ireland and the barriers to accessing mental health services
This research project attempts to identify issues affecting young people’s mental health and barriers to access supports available. Data collected through secondary sources were used in this research project. The sources included transcript interviews conducted through the youth services Spunout. The report concludes that many young people in Ireland are experiencing mental health issue due to the Global pandemic – Covid 19. Urbanisation, and lack of services for young people suffering, making it impossible to receive help. Although mental health is an issue, some people present with hope for the future, post Covid-19.
Aims and Questions
Explore the attributes of mental health deterioration in a society where young people are more connected than ever before.
- What is the average age young people in Ireland are gaining access to social media platforms?
- What impact does social media have on young people’s mental health in today’s society?
Explore the existence of suicide ideation amongst young people
- Is suicide ideation a trend linked to social media influence?
- Why are mental illnesses being flaunted by influencers?
Explore the stigma associated with young people speaking about their personal issues.
- What is the social image associated with speaking about negative thoughts and self-image?
Identify how COVID-19 has caused many young people to feel isolated, afraid, and with little feeling of hope.
- What impact has COVID-19 isolation had on young people in Irish society?
- How has the isolation of COVID-19 helped young people to understand their feelings and made them aware of the emotional connection between the outside world and the thoughts in their heads?
Youth Mental health in Ireland is a significant concern, as the rates of suicide are increasing, and young people are presenting more often to mental health units. The following literature explores some of the issues surrounding mental health amongst youth’s and its contributing factors. Research areas include the attributes of mental health deterioration in a society where young people are more connected than ever before. This research will:
- Explore suicide ideation amongst young people.
- Explore the stigma associated with young people speaking about their issues.
- Identify how COVID-19 has caused many young people to feel isolated, afraid, and with little feeling of hope.
Smartphones and access to social media aid with the rise in mental health issues, depression, suicide ideology and anxiety, particularly among young girls and women (Abi-Jaoude et al, 2020). It appears the length young females spend on social media is much higher than their male opposites (Abi-Jaoude et al, 2020). Young women and men are using social media platforms as systems of approval amongst peers developed in the forms of likes, comments and emojis, which many young people consider a form of personal validity (Hughes 2020). Young people in the past would arrange to meet up for connection in places such as café’s, restaurants and public areas, yet now these occupancies are meeting points to scroll through social media with little human interaction (Hughes, 2020).
Mental illness and its stigma can create barriers for young people to openly speak about their issues (Fortune et al, 2008). Young men find it difficult to talk to their peers about personal issues, creating a weak personal image (Garcia, 2013). Mental health is a topic regularly mentioned in modern societies, yet young people still lack awareness and information about its definition and resources available in the community (Collingwood, 2009). Ireland has developed a prestigious policy surrounding the high level of suicides in Ireland, Connecting for Life (Dept of Health, 2020). The plan implemented initially for a five-year strategic plan in 2015 has been extended for a further four years to 2024 due to its success in mental health (Dept of Health, 2020). Connecting for Life has been developed to help young people suffering and give them a voice; strategic planning and implementation throughout the services and community has aided its success (Dept of Health, 2020). Research has established that primary care is essential in early intervention; rural Ireland lacks these services, affecting youth mental health (Leahy et al, 2013).
The effects of COVID-19 are ongoing concerning youth, with a significant rise in the number of young people presenting to the emergency department experiencing mental health issues (Leeb et al, 2020). Social factors such as school are essential for young people in their developing years, and with the closure of schools early in the pandemic, many young people feel isolated, depressed, and anxious (Leeb et al, 2020). These findings are firmly in line with the constructionist theory, which states that our realities compile by the human mind is subjective to the learner’s perspective (Clarke, 2001). A study completed in the US, which has had a similar response as the UK to COVID-19, uses age groups (0–4, 5–11, and 12– 17 years) and gender variables in the study (Leeb et al, 2020).
Connections between the length of time young people spend on their social media have long-term mental health issues. The social areas that people once used to occupy for deep meaning connections now occupy socially disengaged activities. The idea that peers thinking a person is weak for acknowledging and talking about their feelings is still apparent amongst young male groups. COVID-19 1had a clear link to mental health in youths, with ongoing research obstructed. The literature above has found many of these trends apparent with youth is in Ireland and their diminishing mental health.
Constructivism is the belief that knowledge is socially constructed (Hammersley, 2012). When put into practice, the researcher constructs the research based on their subject’s reality (Hammersley, 2012). Different perspectives and realities help compile the ideas for the researcher (Hammersley, 2012). Constructionist researchers question scientists’ ability to understand other people or even themselves (Hammersley, 2012). Researchers question whether a set of already learned belief and behaviour can influence a person’s behaviour or independently create their existence sporadically (Hammersley, 2012).
The ontological position for the qualitative research on youth presenting with mental health is constructivism. The research constructed is by the lived experiences of young people who have been subject to impaired mental health in Ireland. Information for the qualitative research project gathered using opened-ended questions implemented to the subject, giving the researcher a more appropriate idea of the participant’s views of mental health among youths (Hammersley, 2012). The constructivist approach will explore the effects of Covid 19 on young people in Ireland.
The epistemological position for the qualitative research on youth mental health is Interpretivism, which explores the researcher’s information based on the participants’ view of their situation. Interpretivism is essential as it looks at the subjects from a humanistic view, connecting through emotion, culture and lived experiences (Hammersley, 2012). Through this connection, the researcher gets a better understanding of human beings (Hammersley, 2012). Expansion into the participants lives is essential to give a well-informed deep view on mental health in youths (Hammersley, 2012). The researcher will obtain knowledge from the young people experiencing mental health issues on a deeper precise level.
The data used in this qualitative research study is of secondary sources involving interviews of young people writing to Spunout explaining their experiences through COVID-19. Research is a powerful tool adaptable to many aspects of the world through the researcher’s interpretation (O’Leary, 2004). Much of the research conducted in this qualitative research was obtained through interviews online from the Spunout website, which helps protect the participants’ anonymity (O’Leary, 2004). The benefits of this type of research are a multitude of information is widely accessible throughout the internet, cost-effective when sourcing and accessible promptly.
Many of the research participants in the research aged between 16 and 23 years of age; their anonymity maintained securely by using their first names and the county where they originated (Spunout, 2020). For the study, the participants gave detailed accounts of the effects COVID 19 is having on their mental health, which the researcher gathered the responses to interpret (Spunout, 2020). The interviews are available online through the spun-out website available to the public.
The fundamental principles developed by ESRC were incorporated information to establish research. Integrity, transparency and quality must be maintained when carrying out the process (ESRC, 2015). Participants must have limited information on using the research to implement unbiased opinions; respondent’s anonymity must remain dignified during the process (O’Leary, 2004). In the research carried out, many participants were under 18 years of age, which concealed their anonymity, data collected through interviews prescribed through Spun-out.
The research implemented secondary data collection to collaborate the data. All data obtained is gathered into files for thematic coding due to the data’s sensitive nature, secured on a password encrypted laptop (O’Leary, 2004). As the data collected is secondary data, approval to use the data in a sensitive and caring manner identified by the researcher (O’Leary, 2004). Themes discovered through the text interviews provided, while codes developed for the themes (O’Leary, 2004). All the codes and themes were produced into mind maps to identify patterns in the codes and themes (O’Leary, 2004).
This research aims to understand the lived experiences with mental health in young people in Ireland. The research findings and analysis, thematic coding established links in the transcripts provided, based on secondary data (Braun, Clarke, 2012). Several interviews were transcribed from Spunout to give an in-depth account of young people’s lived experiences with mental health issues (Spunout, 2021). The interviews used for this research project are available on the Spun out website. The interviews transcribed were used to establish themes and coding of the data while remaining relevant to the aims and the contents of the research (Braun, Clarke, 2012).
From the analysis of the research, the emerging themes are:
- The psychological effect Covid-19 is having on young people in Ireland.
- The impact of the lack of social inclusion in communities.
- Although there is a worldwide pandemic young people are optimistic and are having a positive outlook.
- Continuity of support networks for young people throughout Covid-19.
Many of the interviews presented numerous young people speak of the adverse psychological distress affecting their mental health, making everyday tasks a struggle.
This theme identifies “The psychological effects of Covid-19 on young people in Ireland”.
Maisie, from Mayo, speaks of the mental distress in her interview.
“My experience with Covid-19 over the past few weeks have been quite challenging. I have got the added pressure of the Leaving Certificate, which has taken a toll on my mental health”.
Young people recognise that their mental health may not have been excellent before the pandemic, but now it has affected their mental health.
“I feel like lockdown made my anxiety and depression far worse. Even with a lot of exercises and doing things I enjoy, life feels hard at the moment”- Jamie, Kildare.
Young people thrive within their peer groups; they develop essential skills to help them cope with life’s challenges. When there is no social inclusion, young people experience negative thoughts and find each day excrescently difficult. Majorly young people spoke about the mental effects in their interviews as their freedom has been taken away from them.
“Usually, I’m a really outgoing person who’s never really sat in the house, but when it came to lockdown, my freedom just crumbled around me” – Emma, Donegal.
Separation from friends and family is causing great distress. Young people struggle with not seeing their family members.
“The effect on my mental health is amplified by the separation I’m feeling from my friends and family”.
Although this is a terrifying time for many young and older adults in Ireland, optimism still shines through. Many of the young people interviewed did show some hope when it came to the future.
“I’m very lucky, however, that over the past couple of years, I have developed efficient coping skills and I have built up a network of outstandingly supportive friends through Spunout. ie’s Action Panels” – Maisie, Mayo.
The support networks designed to help people during Covid-19 availed throughout the whole experiences of young people in Ireland. As the pandemic is worldwide, it has created a sense of unity among communities.
“I’m lucky to have such good people I can count on when this whole nightmare is over”- Emma, Donegal.
“Having open discussions can form a sense of clarity and unity with others, which is a special bond to share during this time of universal crisis”- Jessica, Dublin.
From the findings, even though people connect through social media and other connected forms, mental health is diminishing. The feeling of isolation is evident among communities in need of more and better mental health services. There is some alleviation of isolation from group check-ins organised by Spunout. Negative thoughts while slight social inclusion is causing young people to be in their head more frequent, causing negative thoughts and isolation (Spunout, 2020). There is still a stigma of talking about the personal issue as people do not want to burden their family members or worry. Young people are still keeping their worries to themselves. The effects of Covid-19 are ongoing concerning youth, with a significant rise in the number of young people presenting to the emergency department experiencing mental health issues (Leeb et al, 2020). Social media platforms create easy access for social connections, resulting in people making little effort to connect in person; this is now evidence suggesting that suicide ideation among young people links to their social media consumption (Abi-Jaoude et al, 2020). Young men find it difficult to talk to their peers about personal issues, creating a weak personal image (Garcia, 2013).
As the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, the long-term effects on youth mental health in Ireland is unpredictable. The finding’s sample size is small as people are still finding it difficult to reach out to use mental health services. Suicide is still rising among young men in Ireland, while the stigma around speaking about personal issues still reside (Garcia, 2013). The limitation associated with this study is that there is still not enough research conducted in these areas.
This research’s limitations are the small sample size; nine interviews used for this research’s findings. The interviews are all conducted n the basis of secondary data, which the researcher has to aid as believing to be entirely accurate. There can only be a presumption that guideline influenced by ESRC throughout. As the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, there is little previous research to base the findings.
I suggest an entire subject module on Mental Health in primary and secondary schools in Ireland, which will enable young people to nurture and strengthen their mental health. Ideally, empower people with knowledge around their negative thoughts while introducing strategies to combat these feelings. This empowerment movement will influence peer involvement also.
As to conclude the qualitative research report, the main aims of this report were to explore the attributes of mental health deterioration in a society where young people are more connected than ever before. Explore whether suicide ideation is common amongst young people. Explore the stigma associated with young people speaking about their issues. Identify how COVID-19 has caused many young people to feel isolated, afraid, and with little feeling of hope.
Although social media platforms keep people connected, the research project has shown that their mental health is diminishing (Spunout). There are still significant stigmas associated with people talking about their issues, especially in young men (Garcia, 2013). The ongoing issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic has seen some harrowing admissions from young people suffering from their mental health while also holding little regards for the future (Spunout, 2020). The data used in the research is secondary data, all sources from the Spunout website. The interviews are real-life lived experiences of young people in Ireland (Spunout).
One of the themes established through this report is that young people are encouraged to reach out to different agencies but feel a stigma of judgement from peers. Through social media, young people are beginning to use their voices as a sense of unity brings connection through the pandemic. A second theme recognised in the research is the importance of community involvement to regulate and social inclusion combatting mental health issues.
It is evident that Government policies and procedures are evolving while remaining relevant to the youth population. The roll-out of the “Connecting for Life” Government policy surrounding suicide has been an enormous success. It has been restructured and implemented until 2024. Mental health services and outreach programmes are making significant progress in eliminating the stigma associated with mental. Only through education and zero-tolerance will their efforts be recognised, so it is up to the Government to implement funding and policy influence. Communities can begin to educate themselves on how everybody can relish mental health functioning. Normalising talking about how people feel, especially among men, will see a considerable shift in the stigmas (Garcia, 2020). Mental health is hard to see, but if everybody pays special attention to their loved ones while checking in with them regularly, this will have a hugely positive outcome. While checking in with them regularly, this will have a hugely positive outcome.
The research identifies gaps in the needs of the service of communities. It is a good indication of the need for services funding and implementation. The Government official should take heed and understand that there is a need to support young people suffering from mental health distress. However, other factors may implement the policies’ effectiveness, such as economic, political, urban areas, and funding access.
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