Students recover from pandemic
Dhe mental health of students has improved in recent months. This is shown by a study by the Demographic Change Research Center Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. At the end of 2021, 61 percent of the students surveyed said they were irritable or in a bad mood on at least two days a week, by August 2022 it was only about every second. In addition, 39 percent would have felt unhappy and depressed at the end of 2021 – this proportion fell by nine percentage points.
So the youngsters are doing better. But: “The exposure values are all still above the level before the pandemic, so we have to be vigilant,” says study leader Andreas Klocke, who holds the professorship for social work and health at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences.
The data comes from a fairly spontaneous survey. Actually, the Research Center for Demographic Change, headed by Klocke, interviewed a total of 10,000 schoolchildren for the study “Health Behavior and Accidents in School Age” (GUS). Pupils in various federal states repeatedly provided information about their physical and mental health over a period of several years.
Since the same children were interviewed again and again, longitudinal data are generated: the development over several years is shown; according to Klocke, causal connections with external events can also be established in this way. The study was planned from 2014 to 2020. With the onset of the Pandemic However, the researchers decided to interview the same students two more times: in 2021 and 2022.
“As young people get older, well-being declines”
Fewer young people took part in the survey a year ago and the one from today. In 2021 there were around 1450, this August only 270. Klocke sees this as positive, at least for the young people themselves: Many would have started an apprenticeship or study, were traveling or were no longer so affected by the pandemic, which is why the willingness to take part in the study had fallen. Actually a good sign. However, due to the small population, the data should be interpreted with caution.
According to Klocke, it is clear that the mental state of the children is recovering. But overall this has gotten worse over the course of her youth. Because the results of the large GUS study show that both physical and mental suffering increase with age. According to the research report, 23.5 percent of children complained of headaches when they were in the fifth grade. In grade 10 it was 30.3 percent. In contrast, the number of schoolchildren who felt energetic or fit on at least two days in the previous week decreased steadily over time.
The overall increase in psychological distress is reflected in the responses to the question of whether students feel lonely, sad or irritable, whether they find it difficult to concentrate or whether they sleep poorly. The proportion of those who feel sad several times a week doubles as they get older. In fifth grade, 29.2 percent of the children often felt irritable; as tenth graders, almost 52 percent said so. Almost 30 percent of fifth graders complained about poor sleep, as did 36.4 percent of tenth graders. The proportion of those reporting difficulty concentrating increased by almost 15 percentage points over time.
Puberty plays an important role in classifying these results, says study leader Klocke. “When young people get older, their well-being decreases.” Teenagers are more critical of life, classify situations more realistically – and therefore often more negatively – than fifth graders. Increasing conflicts with parents and increasing demands at school contribute to the feeling of being unwell.
Pandemic still plays a big role in everyday life
In addition, the pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health of students: the proportion of those who felt irritable and bad-tempered increased by 17 percentage points compared to the time before Corona. And not 19, but 39 percent suddenly said they felt depressed and unhappy.
These results support the findings of other surveys. The pandemic has hit young people in particular. A year ago, the “Jugend und Corona” study by the University of Frankfurt came to the following conclusions: 61 percent of young people felt lonely, 64 percent partially or fully agreed that they were mentally stressed. 69 percent are, some only partially, plagued by fears about the future.
Although the lockdowns and school closures were some time behind the young people, they also made the same statements to Klocke’s team at the end of 2021. It was only eight months later that the survey results showed that the situation had improved. Corona is not over – still high numbers of infections and the debate about the Infection Protection Act show that the pandemic still plays a major role in everyday life. But now she’s part of it.
Klocke can only speculate whether this is the reason for the improvement. He believes that above all the better general framework conditions will contribute to relaxation. “There are parties, people travel.” The young people have more hope for the future. Also: Most of those surveyed have now outgrown school – school closures and moderate online classes no longer affect them. You can face new challenges in life.