Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of youth across our province. For four students enrolled in Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador’s (MUNL) Social Work program, the impacts were felt in their pursuit of education and now they’re advocating for better mental health supports to support youth in post-pandemic life.
Bridgette, Hannah, Rebecca and Sarah joined Choices for Youth’s (CFY) Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Jen Crowe, in an open dialogue discussion on the effects of the pandemics and what the long-term impact of the pandemic is on social work students and the communities they support.
First Impressions of the Pandemic
The imposed restrictions during the first wave hit everyone differently, and for the four students, they felt the impacts in many ways.
“To me, it felt like it was a small break from school or work, and I didn’t think it would get as severe as it did and when it started to get more severe, I realized how much of an impact it was going to have on students and the general public and I started to feel overwhelmed and scared”- Hannah, social work student
During these early weeks of the pandemic, the four students all felt that the effects of the pandemic wouldn’t be as bad as other more densely populated areas of the world. However, the four students witnessed the negative impacts both at work and in their personal lives.
“I saw videos online of other places in the world, and it didn’t cross my mind that it would be where it is right now. One area that was impacted in my life was my job, and when the pandemic hit, I had to find other jobs- the pandemic negatively impacted small businesses in Newfoundland. My friend group changed over the pandemic because there were so many lockdowns over the past two years, I could only see people in my bubble which was my family, so my friendships had a negative impact” – Rebecca, social work student
Impact on Long Term Goals
Digital solutions presented both positive and negative impacts, but ultimately left many unsure of how they would be able to complete their educational pursuits. The Social Work program at MUNL combines lectures and fieldwork. The experiential component of the social work program is a critical in preparing social work students for the workforce.
“With school and my long-term goals as a social worker, I have friends and faculty who have had difficulty with placements because of working from home and it’s a different experience when you’re thinking about your future career, not getting the work term or internship can influence your career goals long term.” – Bridgette, Social Work student
During this stressful time, students reflected on the importance of the social work profession, and the power of these professionals in providing direct support for vulnerable populations, especially during times of crisis.
“It's made me admire the profession of social work – it’s not a profession you can stop doing. During the pandemic, workers had to still go to work during lockdowns in the community and it’s inspired me for their ability to adapt and it secured that passion for me. However, for other classes they’ve [students] never met the staff or stepped in the classroom because of lockdowns. It’s an important part of our education to have in person classes, and I think they’re missing out on opportunities because they have it do it through online forums.” – Sarah, social work student
With a heavy emphasis on digital education and employment, have a reliable device and WIFI quickly became critical. Completing educational goals virtually gave students the opportunity to ease into an unfamiliar situation and supported some students to pursue education while being closer to family, or while working in a less stressful environment. However, for those with mental health issues who couldn’t access supports as easily, a digital atmosphere became isolating and limiting, speaking to the need to consider a blended approach as we move out of the pandemic.
Advocating for a Better Way Forward
The effects of the pandemic have heightened pre-existing mental health issues and have put a spotlight on the need for long-term mental health supports for youth. Bridgette, Hannah, Rebecca and Sarah emphasize that to build a better future for young people, it’s critical that decision-makers prioritize mental health supports that will allow for young people to chart their own way forward.
“The provincial and federal decision-makers need to consider how much the last few years of the pandemic has had an effect on youth mental health. I work in an after-school program and before we went into lockdowns, and once we came back, kids were completely different. Having to do everything virtual, or be in a school setting, has really had a negative impact on their mental health and we need to look at that before we build a better future for youth following the pandemic.” – Rebecca, social work student
If you or someone you know needs support or access to emergency supports, please reach out to our Outreach Youth and Engagement Centre or visit our website.
Outreach Youth and Engagement Centre
12-16 Carters Hill Place
St. John’s, NL
P: (709) 754 – 3047