Most young people uncomfortable discussing mental health despite increased stress from Covid-19: Survey

Over seven in 10 said the economic fallout of the virus negatively affected their mental health, while 68 per cent said they felt negatively affected by travel bans.
Over seven in 10 said the economic fallout of the virus negatively affected their mental health, while 68 per cent said they felt negatively affected by travel bans.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Many young people in the Asia Pacific region aged 18 to 24, also known as Generation Z, still struggle to talk about their mental health despite mounting pressures arising from the ongoing pandemic.

A survey of 1,226 Gen Z respondents living in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Singapore found that just 41 per cent were comfortable discussing their mental health even though 73 per cent reported experiencing more stress due to Covid-19.

More than half - 57 per cent - said their mental health has worsened. Almost 80 per cent said they faced "overwhelming stress" at least once a month or more frequently, with 28 per cent experiencing this weekly and 11 per cent daily.

The results of the survey, conducted by the communications consultancy Sandpiper Communications, were released on Friday (Oct 9), ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday.

It found that Gen Z's top source of overwhelming stress in general was family pressures, with 65 per cent of respondents citing this as a factor.

This was followed by career pressures (48 per cent) and relationships with friends (41 per cent).

In terms of stressors related to Covid-19, the survey found that economic and lifestyle impacts from the pandemic were perceived to have a greater influence on Gen Z's mental health and wellbeing compared with health-related impacts.

Over seven in 10 said the economic fallout of the virus negatively affected their mental health, while slightly fewer - 68 per cent - said they felt negatively affected by travel bans.

These concerns outranked worries about actual Covid-19 infections. About 62 per cent said they were worried about friends and family getting infected while 58 per cent were worried about getting infected themselves.

Respondents were mixed on the effect of social media on their mental health, with nearly a quarter saying it had helped their mental health and wellbeing while just over a third said it had a negative influence.

Out of those who said social media had a positive impact on their mental health, almost seven in 10 said this was because it helped them connect with family and friends. Two-thirds said social media was a source of distraction to pass the time and the same proportion reported increased boredom during the pandemic.

Social media as a source of news was both a boon and a bane for Gen Z, according to the survey.

Almost six in 10 of those who said it had a positive effect on their mental health said it was because it was their biggest source of news.

At the same time, the influx of negative stories was the biggest reason for those who said social media had negatively impacted them, with 61 per cent citing it as a factor.

Almost half of the group that said social media had worsened their mental health cited the lack of real connection with friends and loved ones.

About 38 per cent said social media inadvertently pressured them to be constantly busy despite feeling bad about the pandemic situation.

The pandemic may also have pushed respondents towards making more responsible decisions, the survey found.

Asked how Covid-19 affected their future plans, 46 per cent said they would increase their focus on saving while 30 per cent said they had increased their commitments to their studies or learnt a new skill during the pandemic.

The survey was conducted online in September.

Ms Emma Smith, chief executive of Sandpiper Communications, said in a statement that young people are among those most impacted by the coronavirus and will need to live with the social and economic impacts for many years to come, during the prime of their lives and careers.

"As we mark World Mental Health Day, it's important we understand how the pandemic is affecting them and what opportunities exist for better communication and support," she added.

"It is concerning that despite Gen Zs suffering increased mental health and wellbeing pressures during Covid-19, they still struggle to talk about these issues.

"While the increasing focus on betterment can be seen as a positive outtake from Covid-19, there's also a risk that without strong communications, openness and transparency around mental wellbeing, it may mask deeper issues."