Young adults’ angst as pandemic drags on

By Minh Trang   September 18, 2021 | 04:54 pm PT
Young adults’ angst as pandemic drags on
Pham Nguyen Quan, who lost two close friends in August to Covid-19, goes into the corridor to take a walk to relax, August 14, 2021. Photo courtesy of Quan
Amid social distancing due to Covid-19, Tran Thu Hong feels she has lost control of her life and everything around her is moving at a glacial pace.

This should have been a good year for her. She had been planning to enroll for a master's degree but the Covid-19 outbreak derailed her plans. She has delayed her academic plans indefinitely because she fears studying online will not cut it.

Living in a small house with her family in Hanoi's Cau Giay District, Hong now has no specific plans for her future though she claims to be a person who likes to plan ahead.

All day long negative thoughts keep cropping up in her mind. She fears her anxiety disorder, for which she had taken treatment for one year, is returning.

She is caught up in angst.

She fears she will not be able to catch up with her peers. She is despondent she has not been able to achieve what she should have at 25 such as being financially independent and moving out on her own.

Her anxiety is so great that when sees a knife she imagines it falling and impaling her leg.

"The uncertainty makes my anxiety worse, creating a vicious cycle that I don't know how to cope with".

To reassure herself, Hong tells herself she escaped depression once and will do so again.

Psychological problems like those suffered by Hong are rife amid the pandemic.

Psychologist Dr Nguyen Do Hong Nhung says Covid-19 is a collective trauma that can affect everyone.

The angst, and not knowing how to get out of the situation or when everything will get back to normal, like Hong experiences is very common, she says.

As a member of an online network of physicians who counsel people, she speaks with 15-30 people per day.

She says each age group has different things troubling them: students worry about studying online and not knowing when they can return to school and meet friends; seniors worry about pre-existing medical problems and vulnerability to Covid; others worry about losing their jobs and livelihoods, making ends meet if they have to be isolated, and when they can return to work.

The crisis of loneliness and disconnection is what Vu Thu Giang, 26, an office worker in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District, faces.

"Now the simplest thing like sitting next to colleagues is enough to bring me joy," she says after months of staying at home.

Introverted, quiet and a loner, she had never thought there would be a day when she felt so empty. She speaks on the phone with friends to dispel her loneliness, calling those in Vietnam during the day and in the U.S. at night.

The need to communicate with others has turned her schedule upside down. Instead of sleeping at her usual 10 p.m. she stays up until 2-3 a.m. to chat.

She feels pressured being cooped up at home with her parents. Her father often opens the door of her room unexpectedly. Seeing her wake up at 9 a.m. he sometimes scolds her for being "lazy."

Unable to explain, she avoids interacting with him by hiding in her room and not often eating with him. But the more she does so, the lonelier she feels.

Young people, who are usually stereotyped as resilient, seem to be suffering the most psychologically due to the pandemic.

As long ago as in June 2020 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the Covid pandemic had increased anxiety and depression and increased psychotropic substance abuse, with 18-24-year-olds being the most severely affected.

A survey in France last year of over 30,000 people found young people ranking lowest in mental health.

A study by the International Labor Organization in 2020 in 112 countries found that two-thirds of people aged 18 to 29 were at risk of anxiety and depression.

Nhung says 60 percent of the people to whom she has provided counseling during the epidemic are aged between 18 and 30.

"Most of them are young people who feel disoriented, emotionally lost, do not feel they are alive or feel trapped because they have to comply with social distancing regulations."

She lists three reasons why young people are vulnerable to the impacts of the epidemic: it came suddenly and so they did not have time to adapt; they feel stripped of opportunities to do things during their youth, form social relationships and create their identity; and the Y and Z generations are working or studying, which makes conflicts likely if they have to stay at home for too long or are subject to daily control by their family.

Her advice is: "Get enough sleep, eat the right and nutritious food and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Accept your thoughts and feelings and focus on what you can do at the moment to control fears about the future".

She further recommends that when problems become serious, people should not hesitate to seek help from doctors and psychiatrists.

Pham Nguyen Quan, 28, of Ho Chi Minh City, lost two friends to Covid last month.

"They were below 30 years old and full of life," the designer from District 12 said.

Not being able to attend his best friends' funerals torments him.

"Covid-19 may pass, but the consequences left by it are forever," he says.

A week ago he told himself he had to be strong not only to get along with his own life but also to support the family of his two friends who left young children behind.

Quan also realizes that Covid-19 is bringing basic values home people. Instead of scrambling to earn money, he has told himself, he has to take care of his family and friends more so that "if something happens, I won't regret it."

"I don't need luxury cars or beautiful things, just a healthy life."

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