The great forgotten

When the pandemic struck, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose concerns expressed themselves as fears for my nearest and dearest. My mother, an elderly woman in poor health living in a care home over a thousand kilometres away. My wife, a health worker who looks after old people in a hospital nursing home. My sister, an overweight diabetic who continued working in a large supermarket throughout the lockdown. Naturally, my fears also extended to myself. In my fifties, with a bad chest and, at the time, a couple of semi-serious medical problems, I was convinced I would be a goner within weeks. The dog was the only one who didn’t worry me too much.

There are a couple of notable absences from the list above that arguably should be at the top of it: my two children. Like most parents, I’m pretty much in a constant state of fear for the welfare of my children anyway, but one thing we learned about this new virus was that - mercifully - children and young people in general were at little risk of becoming seriously ill or dying.

Yet as we’ve also learned over the past year and a half, the medical emergency caused by the pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether it be social relations or the economy, the pandemic has negatively impacted just about every aspect of our lives. One of those issues is our mental health, and here young people have been severely affected. You can find out more about the rise of mental health problems among young people in the report we have in this month’s magazine.

That report refers to young people as ’the great forgotten’, and I’d say there’s some truth in that. Thinking about my offspring - a 16-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son - I wonder how they will emerge from this distressing period that has turned their worlds upside down at such a delicate stage in their development. Unlike some families, we have not had to deal with such serious issues as self-harm or suicide attempts and as far as I can see my children seem to have weathered the storm quite well.

Yet like for many young people all over Catalonia, it is hard to believe there won’t be some price to pay for this profound disruption to their natural evolution into what one hopes are balanced, fully-formed adults. Surely no young person can escape unscathed when they have been denied the freedom to socially interact with their friends and peers, so important for their development, when their studies have been interrupted and curtailed, when their already worrying dependence on screens, electronic devices and social networks has merely deepened, when they have been unable to spend quality time with their extended family, when their sports events, school excursions or family holidays have been postponed or cancelled, to list just a few of the effects that the restrictions have placed on their lives.

However, one thing that worries me the most is that our young people have had to live with uncertain, fearful and stressed adults worried about making ends meet on reduced pay. At the same time, these adults never seem to tire of reminding them that they can’t go out to meet their friends, that they can’t stay out late, that if they don’t follow the guidelines they could kill grandma. Many of these adults have been drinking much more alcohol than before and we know that domestic abuse has risen and that young people are often its victims. Young people were just about blamed for the fifth wave of the pandemic that began going into the summer after things appeared to be getting better in the spring. To top it all, there’s often a “you’re young, what have you got to worry about?” attitude around that, as the report in this issue points out, is not very helpful. I don’t know whether our young people are “the great forgotten” but I do know that they need support just as much as anyone else at this difficult time.

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