Last updated: 30 Nov, 2020

How coronavirus restrictions impacted the health and wellbeing of young people in Australia.

Key messages

  • Young people have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

  • VicHealth surveyed 2,006 young Australians to explore the impact of coronavirus restrictions on their lives.

  • The study covered social connection, loneliness, mental health and wellbeing and other health behaviours.

Download: Young people coping with coronavirus: interim report (PDF, 529 KB)

The entire population has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

However, young people have been heavily impacted through job loss, disrupted education, reduced social connection and increased anxiety about the future.

These disruptions have happened at a critical life stage for young people, who are already coping with major transitions and establishing lifelong health attitudes and behaviours.

Young people are also at greater risk of experiencing loneliness, poor mental health and adverse changes in health behaviours.

Fortunately, young people are also resilient, creative, resourceful and have insight into their own experiences during the pandemic. Therefore, VicHealth believes it is vital that their voices are heard.

 

What’s in the interim report?

The report provides detailed results of the first in a series of surveys, conducted by the Burnet Institute on behalf of VicHealth, between April and July 2020.

2,006 young Australians aged 15–29 years were surveyed with the aim of assessing the impact of coronavirus restrictions on their health and wellbeing.

Throughout this report, VicHealth’s main objective is to shine a light on the experiences of young people – in their own words.

 

“It’s more difficult to manage a work-life balance (i.e. working more over-time) – [I] have felt less engaged with colleagues. Being isolated has caused more fatigue/stress (i.e. too much screen time with many work meetings now video conferences, increased use of technological devices in general with not being allowed to go to the gym, socialise and more time watching TV/using the computer etc.).”

27-year-old woman from Vic

 

“[I’m] tired of living with my family, haven’t gone out of the house
 for two months, haven’t been to school to study. I am in year 12 [which is] such a crucial year, but because of this the whole situation...We don’t even know if we will have final exams or not...This is emotionally stressful.”

19-year-old woman from Vic

Key Report Findings

1. Participants and the impact of coronavirus

Of the 2,006 young people surveyed from across Australia:

  • 36% were living in Victoria

  • 84% were living in metropolitan areas.

Education was revealed to be a major source of anxiety for young people. Before March 2020:

  • 54% were studying

  • 39% were working full time.

Young people felt that they were not receiving the same standard of education from home that they were onsite.

They stated that unrealistic levels of work, lack of support from schools, poor internet service and uncertainty about the future, affected with their ability to study.

Personal lives in general had also been majorly affected for young people.

Some had to move back in with their parents due to travel restrictions and financial stress. Others expressed major social losses – missing out on major milestones, like graduation, starting new jobs and travel.

 

2. Changes in health behaviours

Many young people reported changes in the frequency of key health behaviours.

Bar graph showing change in behaviours

 

3. Social connection and mental health

Young people reported that social media was the main way they were able to stay connected during the pandemic, however:

  • 74% said their social media use had increased due to the pandemic

  • 68% felt they were using too much social media.

The survey assessed young people’s loneliness, social connection, mental health and wellbeing to establish a baseline level for comparison of surveys in the future.

Overall, the report found 37% disagreed with the statement, “I feel connected with others.”

Bar graph showing loneliness scores 

 

4. What young people want

The survey asked young people what those in power could do to help them stay connected, healthy and mentally well. The key themes that arose were:

  • Clear and consistent communication about coronavirus and related restrictions.

  • Increased support from schools, universities, and teachers; for example, asking teachers to reach out and contact students individually.

  • Flexibility and consideration given to assessments, and a reduction in study workload.

  • Help with access to remote education: understanding that not everyone has appropriate IT or internet facilities, supportive families and households, or can learn remotely.

  • Expand financial support (JobKeeper), including eligibility for casual and gig workers, temporary residents on work or study visas and those living with their parents.

  • Reduced financial pressures including reductions in rent, utilities, and university fees.

  • More affordable and accessible mental health care, particularly access to bulk billed psychology.

  • More programs to support positive mental wellbeing including opportunities for social connection, education and physical activity.

  • Reassurance about the future; hope that issues such as employment, education, and climate change would be addressed.

  • Greater consideration of youth voices in decision making and communication.

 

What is VicHealth doing next?

Part of a 3-phase study, this report from VicHealth presents interim findings of wave 1 of phase 1 conducted with 2,006 Australians aged 15-29 from April to July 2020.

The survey will be repeated at 3-6 monthly intervals for a further 3 waves, from July 2020 through to April 2021.  

Phase 2 of the study will involve in-depth interviews and phase 3 will comprise of co-design workshops. Both phases will be completed in line with the completion of phase 1.

 

Information about the report for researchers and policymakers

The young people surveyed made suggestions for ways the government and other institutes could help them through the pandemic.

When asked what the top issues affecting them at this time were, they responded with:

  • coronavirus

  • mental health

  • finances/money.

They asked for:

  • stronger public health messaging as the updates had not always reached them directly

  • more affordable and flexible access to mental health care

  • additional financial support from the government as many had been ineligible for existing schemes.

Finally, they expressed disappointment that young people’s voices had not been considered in decision making.

 

More Information

Find out more about the scope of VicHealth’s work on young people and coronavirus, by visiting:

VicHealth Coronavirus Victorian Wellbeing Impact Study

Burnet Institute Policy Briefs produced from this study:

YacVic

COVID-19 Recovery Plan for Young People