There’s Hope in the Young People

There’s Hope in the Young People

Renee St-John – KORI Intern

When propositioned to write a blog of my own comparing COVID-19’s impact on BAME youth in the United-Kingdom with the pandemic’s impact on BIPOC youth in Canada, I expected that my research would unveil the unfortunate reality that the youth of today are struggling and in desperate need of support. This goes without saying and is especially true for minority youth here and across the pond. BIPOC (which stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) is the equivalent of BAME here in Canada, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been disproportionately affecting these communities. For instance, like BAME communities, BIPOC communities are more likely to contract the virus and get hospitalized than white communities, with black communities affected more than any other ethnic group. This disparity has been attributed to greater inequalities experienced by racialized and/or marginalized communities (such as poor socio-economic status; living in crowded, multigenerational homes; more front-line workers; working at several different locations, facilitating spread, etc.) as well as the systemic racism perpetuating such inequalities.

Unfortunately, none of these challenges facing BIPOC communities are new; they are merely amplified by a global crisis that is having and will continue to have an unimaginable impact, especially for the young people. From what I have gathered, the UK has done impressive work examining the impact of COVID-19 on BAME youth and youth more broadly. I say this only in comparison to the general lack of empirical evidence and studies done here in Canada concerning youth mental health. Whilst the UK has highlighted the tremendous impact of the national lockdown—specifically on the mental health of young people—as well as the subsequent worsening of pre-existing inequalities that already resulted in BAME communities disproportionately struggling with their mental health, Canadian research is lagging. There has yet to be studies examining the impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC youth’s mental health, although a plethora of resources have been made available online to proactively support young people. Whether everyone has access to such resources, however, is another matter.

A 2018 UNICEF report found that, ordinarily, children from low-income families in Canada are at a disadvantage when entering school, whereas children from higher-income families have access to more resources, which directly results in higher educational attainment. With schools moving to remote learning, it’s apparent that lower-income children and youth from marginalized communities will experience an even greater disparity, with many not having access to internet, computers, quiet spaces, food security, and other resources essential to their learning and thriving. In addition, following government guidelines isn’t always feasible for marginalized young people and the youth-service sector itself (as evidenced by a summary report examining the perspectives of the youth-service sector in Canada). For example, staying home and self-isolating when sick isn’t always possible when youth depend on wages to survive, nor when living in congregate housing. Decreased face-to-face interaction between youth workers and young people also raises concerns that the challenges facing youth at home are going unnoticed. Without access to support and social interactions, many youth report feelings of social isolation, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and/or boredom, and 61% of youth-service workers have noticed increases in youth substance use during the pandemic, which aligns with worsening mental health and disconnection/disengagement from social support.

That being said, while Canadian youth are feeling the greatest immediate effects of COVID-19 compared to any other age group, they are also the most hopeful about the future. A survey by Abacus research revealed that while 31% of young Canadians felt that their emotional and mental health was affected (in addition to 51% of youth worrying that their jobs could disappear), young Canadians displayed the most concern for others as well as the most hope for the future than any other age group. In spite of the challenges, a heartwarming 66% of young Canadians reported worrying about the impact of COVID-19 on social cohesion in Canada, and 64% worried about the impact of the pandemic on people in poor countries—highest of any generation. Hence, the main takeaway isn’t a message of despair, but rather a message of hope. There is hope in the young people, because they, themselves, have hope. The least that we can do now, both in Canada and in the UK, is support BIPOC and BAME youth as well as the youth-service sectors that support them, so that the future they are hopeful about can eventually become a reality.

Tags: KORI, UK, , COVID-19, mental health, corona virus, epidemic, pandemic.

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