Young people aged 12–25 feel that the COVID-19 pandemic made them miss out on a key stage of their lives. They have indicated that important milestones, such as graduation ceremonies or the start of student life, passed them by. This is evident from the latest quarterly study (September 2023) conducted by the Network for Health Research in Disasters (GOR Network).

Furthermore, some young people said that they had fallen behind in their studies due to school closures and remote teaching and that they had not yet (entirely) caught up. The added pressure resulting from this has led to stress – particularly when combined with financial problems caused by the study delay, such as increased student debt. 

Poorer health

The figures also reveal that more young people are rating their health as mediocre or poor. The percentage of young people experiencing mental and/or physical health issues was higher last September than at any time during the preceding year. Furthermore, data from GPs shows that the number of young people contacting them concerning suicide-related consultations (ideation or actual attempts) in the period from July until September 2023 remained high. Young people also visited their GP with complaints of anxiety and nervousness more often.

Social disadvantage

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to have an impact on young people’s social lives as well. Young people indicated that they lost touch with friends since the pandemic and still need to get used to being in large groups again. On top of that, they feel ill at ease talking to strangers. Young people also ascribed other mental health issues to the pandemic, including germophobia and a fear of new restrictions. 

Possibilities for improvement

Prompted by earlier GOR Network studies, ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre conducted interviews with young people themselves, professionals who work with young people and policymakers in the healthcare industry. The interviews show that there are definitely possibilities to improve young people’s mental health. These possibilities are captured in this infographic

Mental health among students

Also today, RIVM and the Trimbos Institute published new figures about students (in the 2023 Monitor on Mental Health and Substance Use among Higher Education Students, MMMS). According to this monitor, students’ mental health appears to have improved somewhat compared to two years ago. The previous monitor took place during a lockdown. For instance, the percentage of participating students who reported experiencing academic pressure fell from 54% to 44%. In spite of this cautious improvement, a significant share of students are experiencing mental health issues. Among other things, 44% of participating students reported experiencing depression/anxiety symptoms. 

Variety of stressors

It turns out that students are affected by a variety of stressors. These include personal stressors, such as study and worries about the cost of living, but also societal ones, such as the tight housing market and climate change. According to the researchers, it is therefore crucial not only to enhance the mental resilience of students, but also to focus on these personal and societal stressors. 

Substance use among students

The MMMS also gives an overview of substance use among students. This shows that the regular use of cannabis and psychedelics (such as LSD) among participating students has decreased since 2021. At the same time, daily or regularly vaping has gained in popularity (up from 1% to 4%). There are no indications that students’ consumption of alcohol is on the decline. 

About the studies

The results for young people are derived from the ninth quarterly study among young people, conducted as part of the GOR Network’s Integrated COVID-19 Health Monitor. This involves a partnership between RIVM, the regional Municipal Public Health Services, the Netherlands Municipal Public Health Services and Medical Assistance in Accidents and Disasters (GGD GHOR), the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel) and ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre to map out the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The monitor was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw). The Monitor on Mental Health and Substance Use among Higher Education Students is a joint effort of RIVM, the Trimbos Institute and GGD GHOR and was commissioned by the Ministries of Health, Welfare and Sport and of Education, Culture and Science. It takes place every two years.