Research

Mental health of UK’s 16-24 year olds worst affected by lockdown

Person at a laptop in a cafe
  • Nearly half (48%) of UK 16-24 year olds reported feeling anxious, with a quarter (25%) saying they felt unhappy
  • Just over a third (34%) are looking forward to seeing friends, but 54% are worried about restrictions being fully lifted
  • 43% fear coming out of lockdown restrictions completely as they feel more socially introverted, while 40% are anxious about the virus
  • Lockdown has been spent sleeping and watching TV for many, leaving them bored, lonely and isolated
  • 47% say their mental health has been negatively impacted and 31% say their physical health has
  • Aviva offers tips to help spot signs of mental health issues in others and tips to support those who may still struggle with their mental wellbeing

New consumer research from Aviva reveals the extent to which young adults in the UK have been impacted by the succession of lockdowns, with 16-24 year-olds the most likely age group to report that lockdown has had a negative impact on their mental health. More than two in five young adults (47%) said their mental health has been negatively impacted, compared to a UK average of just under one in three (31%).

Young adults also reported higher levels of anxiety and low happiness levels compared to other UK adult groups. When asked how they felt the previous day, nearly half (48%) of 16-24 year olds said they felt anxious compared to 33% of all adults. A quarter (25%) of 16-24 year olds also reported feeling unhappy the previous day.

With around 600,000 jobs held by those aged 24 or under on furlough this Spring1 and with 36% of all UK adults estimated to be working exclusively at home during the early 2021 lockdown2, young people in particular have been vulnerable to the negative health impacts of lockdown at home, with many living alone.

Perhaps as a result of the high levels of furlough amongst this age group, 16-24 year olds were least likely to say that the things they do in life are worthwhile, with 57% young adults saying this compared to the UK average of 64% adults.

Negative impacts of lockdown

Overall, three in ten (30%) of UK 16-24 year olds said their personal experience of lockdown had been negative.

Overall, three in ten (30%) of UK 16-24 year olds said their personal experience of lockdown had been negative. Almost half (47%) say the impact on their mental health has been negative, while three in ten (31%) young adults say lockdown has negatively impacted their physical health. A third (32%) say it has negatively impacted their finances.

The research also highlights that boredom (44%) and feelings of loneliness and isolation (39%) are heighted for our youngest UK adult generation. 16-24 year olds also were more likely to be generally anxious about the virus and in particular more anxious about their future health than other age groups.

Most common negatives of lockdown experienced by UK adults

 

16-24 year olds

All UK adults

Boredom

44%

30%

Not seeing friends

42%

40%

Feeling lonely and isolated

39%

26%

I’ve put on weight

30%

28%

Anxiety about the virus

29%

27%

Not seeing family

28%

39%

Anxiety about my future health

27%

19%

I’m less active

26%

23%

I’ve spent more

18%

10%

When asked how any time saved from a lack of commuting was used, the most common response for 16-24 year-olds was sleeping (42%) followed by watching television or listening to the radio (40%), although three in ten (30%) did use this time to do more exercise.

Anxiety around the ending of final lockdown restrictions

While a third (34%) of 16-24 year olds are looking forward to meeting friends in large groups when the lockdown restrictions are fully lifted and an similar number (32%) are looking forward to going on holiday, more than half (54%) said they were anxious about the final ending of restrictions.

Of those who said they were anxious about the final lifting of measures, two in five (43%) 16-24 year olds said it was because they had become more socially introverted, while a similar number (40%) said their anxiety around lockdown lifting was driven by worries about the virus. A third (34%) said they were worried about keeping up with the pace of normal life and one in five (22%) were worried that their work/life balance would deteriorate.

Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director at Aviva UK Health, said: “The succession of national and local lockdowns during the last 16 months has had a profound impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of everybody in the UK, but our consumer research suggests it has had a disproportionate impact on the mental health of our youngest generations across the nation.

“Our claims data for our UK group private medical insurance customers bears this out, as we’ve seen a 100% increase in the numbers of young employees and their dependents seeking help through our mental health pathway since January. 

It’s vital that anyone struggling with anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed, bored, lonely or unhappy seeks help and takes steps to create good habits to support their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director at Aviva UK Health

"Three-quarters of these claims through our employer customers are by young females, with only a quarter of the claims made by young males seeking help, even though we know that mental health issues do not discriminate.

“It’s vital that anyone struggling with anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed, bored, lonely or unhappy seeks help and takes steps to create good habits to support their mental and emotional wellbeing.

"Our wider Wellbeing services can also help private medical insurance customers look after other aspects of their lives that can impact mental health, such as diet, fitness and financial wellbeing.”

Aviva has put together the following advice to support those who may still struggle with their mental wellbeing after all lockdown measures end, and advice on how to spot if someone else is struggling with their mental wellbeing:

Limit your daily exposure to the news and social media

Choose trusted sources and official channels for information. While social media websites are doing their best to stamp out fake news, it’s still out there. It’s easy to get swept up in speculation and sensationalist stories, but it’ll only leave you with misinformation and potentially heightened anxiety levels. 

Keep connected with your friends and family

If you’re still working from home or stuck at home, keep connected with others to share how you’re feeling and keep on top of any worries – there are plenty of free video calling apps to connect with your loved ones. 

Focus on what’s right in front of you 

The antidote to anxiety is being present. So, if you find yourself getting anxious, bring your attention back to where you are right now, this will help alleviate any worries about the future. Breathing exercises and mindfulness practices such as meditation can support this. #

There are lots of free guided meditation apps that can help you get started if you’ve never done it before. 

Create a daily plan

Certainty is settling for our nervous systems and it helps to create a sense of safety. 

A few questions you could ask yourself each morning are: 

  • What am I looking forward to today?
  • What am I going to do to look after myself today?
  • What can I do to look after someone else today?
  • What exercise or movement-based practice can I do this morning/lunchtime/evening? 
  • Who am I going to call at lunch or this evening?
  • What is ‘the thing’ that I never have time for?

Use your answers to create a plan for the day. Even if you don’t achieve everything, having a plan can help ease your mind. 

Connect with others online

There are lots of free online courses being offered – from yoga to dance to laughter circles. People are getting incredibly creative with their skillset and very generous in sharing them.

Take time away from your housemates and family

Make sure you allocate time each day to spend alone. You can go for a walk or run, read, meditate or whatever makes you happy. Do things that are about you and disconnect you from those around you. 

It’s natural to worry about yourself or your loved ones during uncertain times. When you notice yourself in a negative thought spiral, there are some things you can do to get out of it. 

  • Remind yourself that just because you’re thinking a thought doesn’t make it true
  • Focus on what you can control rather than what you can’t
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, then spend time noticing and naming things around you like what you can smell, feel and see – you should notice yourself calming down

How can I tell if someone I know is struggling with their mental health?

Mental health issues usually begin with subtle changes in someone’s feelings, thinking and behaviour that then become an ongoing or a bigger issue. 

A useful gauge of whether someone might be struggling with their mental health is to consider how they’ve changed. If you’ve known them for a while, you’ll know their usual habits, behaviours or moods. Some common changes include:

  • Drinking too much – or more than usual – or started using other substances
  • Having emotional outbursts or displaying erratic behaviour
  • Suddenly losing weight or having a change in appetite
  • Being quieter or more withdrawn than usual
  • Criticising or blaming themselves for everything
  • Looking tired all the time and saying they’re not sleeping well
  • Turning up for work late or leaving early often
  • Becoming unreliable, missing deadlines or disappearing for long periods
  • Being secretive about their whereabouts and feelings

If a family member, colleague or friend is showing any of the above signs – don’t jump to conclusions. Check in with them. 

Ask them if they’re okay and remind them that you’ll listen if they need to speak to someone. If you don’t feel able to do that – ask someone closer to them to speak to them instead. 

People usually feel safer sharing if they think you understand their perspective. So, if you or someone you know have struggled with mental health issues, consider sharing this if you feel safe doing so. 

-ends-

Research was conducted by Censuswide for Aviva amongst 2,001 UK adults between 18-21 June 2021.

1.       Youth unemployment statistics - House of Commons Library (parliament.uk) As at 30 April 2021, 594,100 jobs held by those aged 24 or under were on furlough, which was 16% of eligible jobs.

2.       Coronavirus and the social impacts on behaviours during different lockdown periods, Great Britain - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk). During the latest lockdown from early 2021, 36% of UK adults have worked from home exclusively, with a further 10% following a hybrid working pattern at both home and their place of work

3.       Annual commuting time is up 21 hours compared to a decade ago, finds TUC | TUC

Media enquiries:

Melissa Loughran

Senior Media Relations Manager, Aviva UK Insurance

Notes to editors:

  • For information on how Aviva is helping our people, customers and communities impacted by COVID-19 visit: www.aviva.com/covid-19-our-response/
  • We exist to be with people when it really matters, throughout their lives. We have been taking care of people for more than 320 years, in line with our purpose of being ‘with you today, for a better tomorrow’. In 2020, we paid £30.6 billion in claims and benefits to our customers.
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