Young people in the Pacific are considered to be among the most at risk from the latest outbreak, but research shows more time spent with family is helping this group deal with the mental challenges of the lockdown.
For many students, surviving this lockdown without a laptop, smartphone, and a quiet room to work seems almost impossible.
But for some, from large Pacific families living in overcrowded homes, home learning has seemed very different. Instead, a laptop provided by the Department of Education should be shared between three or four family members, with little chance of finding a quiet spot for Zoom lessons, when they are also likely to juggle working at a local supermarket or picking up extras. travels to a factory.
For Harriet *, an 18-year-old high school student from the Pacific, the challenges have been tough on her mental health.
“The lockdown drags everything,” she said, adding that her friends share similar struggles. “The pros are that you can rest a bit, relax, but the negatives are that it’s just stressful, with homework and the battle in your head.”
And she is not alone. Jane *, a Pacific woman in her twenties who works part-time, says the unpredictability of when Auckland drops from level three has been one of the most difficult parts of this outbreak. “When you don’t know where the finish line is, it’s hard to keep your mindset in the right place,” she says.
According to research conducted by a Pacific mental health service provider The Va, nearly 50% of young people surveyed said they had been negatively impacted by the recent lockdown.
And over the past week, said Charles Tutagalevao, general manager of mental health and addiction services at Counties Manukau Health, there has been a marked increase in the number of people coming to the emergency department at Middlemore Hospital with “mental health and substance abuse problems” and in particular, “young people with distress linked to anxiety”.
Le Va chief executive Denise Kingi-Uluava said that, given that more than 60% of the cases of this epidemic are of peaceful origin, associated with issues such as the digital divide and income inequality, young people in this demographic are most at risk for mental health problems.
“When you see that the numbers don’t go down, the longer the lockdown goes on, and also how it spreads more widely, having a sense of hope is impacted.”
Kingi-Uluava says that research from his organization, which interviewed 827 Pacific Islanders aged 16 to 30 in Auckland in September, showed that the main stressors for young people were school and work responsibilities as well as boredom and isolation.
“What this highlights is that there is so much emphasis on school and work and less on emotional well-being, so how do we make sure they get there?” ”
Another challenge, notes Kingi-Uluava, is the pressure created by living in overcrowded homes, where sometimes “three or four people use one device.”
“What a few students told us was that the home environment was not conducive to studying because they didn’t have their own space or bedroom. And because they couldn’t concentrate on their studies, they had failed a few tests, which caused them major stress.
Māngere College principal Tom Webb confirms that a number of his students “are not able to concentrate on their schoolwork because they do not have a lot of space for them.”
But Webb and Kingi-Uluava say the remedy for these challenges is to ensure that young people can reconnect with their peers and extended family, which could happen more with the easing of level three restrictions.
“Our students really value their relationships with their peers and teachers, and so during the lockdown they don’t have as many as they normally would,” says Webb. “So kids who are independent and motivated learners can thrive, but those who need more support and external motivation go the other way. “
To combat this, the school has a group of student leaders and teachers who have weekly meetings with support workers and psychologists from the Toko Collaboration charitable foundation. They discuss the well-being issues that students face and try to put in place strategies to deal with them.
“School leaders check in with other students and form teachers check in too, to make sure we know what other support they need, whether it’s handing out food packages. or whatever, ”says Webb.
Kingi-Uluava says that a heartwarming aspect of recent research is how resilient young people in the Pacific are, despite the challenges they face.
“Overall, respondents rated their mental health as average or above average and therefore, while there was an impact, it was not as severe as expected,” she says. “When we asked them what their coping strategies were, they talked about spending quality time at home with their families and for some that was a protective factor.”
Jane and Harriet can personally attest to this.
“What makes me feel healthy is the fact that I’m healthy and that I know my loved ones are healthy,” says Jane.
For Harriet, that includes doing Zumba online with her friends and having that “family time” that saw her teaching her parents how to play Kahoot.
Kingi-Uluava says that the high vaccination rates for Pacific youth versus their peers Pākehā shows how important family is to this group. But given the unpredictability of when Covid will be contained, she says it’s important for families and schools to ensure their young people “keep a sense of hope for the future.”
“The reality is that foreclosure is important, so how do we get more optimistic messages across and ensure that those who are feeling stressed can set up a home schooling environment that works well for them with their family and work obligations? “
* Jane and Harriet’s real names have not been used.
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