It may be years before we fully realise the ramifications of the confinement policies that governments around the world have imposed on their citizens in response to covid-19, but the evidence of the costs is starting to come in.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed thousands of high school students about the effects of the pandemic.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the study reports, more than half of students have found it harder to do their homework (66%) and have experienced emotional abuse from a parent or other adult in their household (55%), which is strongly correlated with students experiencing insecurity due to parental job loss (29%), their own job loss (22%), and hunger (24%).”
A related CDC study, released the same day, examined the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of high school students.
It found that “in the 12 months prior to the survey, 44.2% had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, 19.9% had seriously considered suicide, and 9.0% had attempted suicide.
These results should come as no surprise. Just months after the start of the pandemic, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report asked people of all ages about substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, with young people showing the most dramatic increase over pre-pandemic surveys. This report was all but ignored, of course, as political and media demagogues predicted Armageddon if the world did not adopt their draconian isolationist policies.
Now that the Chicken Littles have come home to roost, the real question is whether the results of these studies are the consequence of the pandemic or the response to it. One CDC official, speaking about these studies, gave a revealing answer to this question: “This really gives us the evidence to say with certainty that the pandemic has been incredibly disruptive for young people and their families” (emphasis added). The “pandemic has been devastating”, according to all the media headlines that have reported on these studies.
To some, the distinction between pandemic and confinement may seem like a play on words, but the choice of words may have important implications for current and future policy. The logic behind social distancing obligations is that these policies are necessary to mitigate the severity of the pandemic. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the ineffectiveness of blockades, the faithful will always find ways to reject opponents and call for even stricter obligations (the problem is that we have not isolated ourselves enough!).
If, as the media and researchers claim, it is the pandemic that is affecting young people so badly, this would seem to justify even more authoritarian responses to the virus. Lock down tighter! Isolate more! Punish offenders more severely. Those responsible for confinement like Ms Lovejoy need only shout “think of the children” and the effects of the pandemic on them to gain the support of the very politicians who are actually responsible for the problems they claim to solve.
This is why it is so important to correctly link cause and consequence. It is not, and never has been, the pandemic that has created financial insecurities for families and destroyed the social lives of our young people. It is not the pandemic that is increasing rates of depression, drug addiction and suicidal thoughts among teenagers (and adults, even if they are not as severe). It is the cost of policy responses to the pandemic that, in the name of our safety, have told vulnerable young people that they cannot see their friends, show their faces or participate in social activities that will help them become mentally healthy adults.
It is time for the media to start saying that it is the confinements, isolationism and social distancing that have done so much harm to teenagers, not the pandemic.
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