Taken for granted? Taken for a ride? Or both?

We’ve been hearing quite a lot with regard to the sectors who have been the most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, be it the deadly virus itself or the measures which have been put in the place to mitigate its spread. Be it the retail industry, catering establishments, or the performing arts, these sectors have had their productivity be hindered in some way as a result of the lockdown measures which were put in place.

Undoubtedly, perhaps the most damaging impact of these restrictions was that left on people’s mental health. Whilst the easing of some restrictions has helped in decreasing the pressure on some, others have been left in the same state for a year, with there being little to no significant change in their lives.

The most evident of these sectors, which has relatively remained as it was in terms of its closure, has been that of education. For over a year now, the educational experience of both sixth form and university students has relatively remained the same. Online lectures have become the order of the day, setting foot on campus has almost become a luxury, and it would be a stroke of luck for an entire class to even be in the same room as one another.

Primary and secondary school students have been subjugated to a frequent back and forth over whether they can physically go to school, or if they have stay within the confines of their own home and follow their lessons from in front of a computer screen. Together with producing a setback for their social skills, the overall situation which has engulfed Malta’s education sector has taken a heavy toll on youth’s mental health, and has received little to no acknowledgement from the relevant authorities.

That was of course the case up until recently, when Opposition Leader, Dr Bernard Grech, made reference to what youths are currently going through on the weekly tv programme ‘l-Erbgħa Fost il-Ġimgħa’. Dr Grech was speaking in relation to sixth form and university students having been denied from enjoying the social aspect of life on campus as a result of the ongoing restrictions in place. Of course, whilst these and many more measures are aimed at safeguarding public health and mitigating the spread of COVID-19, their side-effects on people’s mental health and social skills warrant attention nonetheless.

The shift to online education as a result of the pandemic, in relation to its impact on student’s mental health was also recently brought up by PN general election candidate Julie Zahra, who felt that Malta needs to invest further in addressing mental health issues and take it more seriously, whilst referring to how university students have now missed out on a year of their academic and social life.

To add further insult to injury, the measures with regards to online lectures have now been in place for over a year, whilst other restrictions were flagrantly breached. The latest example of this being the illegal parties which have been occurring, with them making the headlines, leaving many people feeling frustrated, and justifiably so.

Sitting at home in front of a laptop screen for days on end may seem easy in of itself, but it isn’t. It’s not easy knowing that the only contact you may get with other people, apart from those who you live with, is through a zoom call. It’s not easy to be obedient and faithful towards laws which are aimed at protecting people’s health, whilst there are others who clearly couldn’t care any less.

It’s not easy to not physically meet your family and friends for over a year, whilst some have carried on like as if 2020 never happened. It’s not easy to have to reconnect to your loved ones via a screen every now and then, when some don’t bother hosting a house party and boasting about it on their Instagram stories.

This is what youths have been put through for over a year, and they’ve sacrificed a great deal for the greater good of the general public’s health, only for gross generalisations to be made about young people.

These generalisations range from youths being a bunch of lazy bums who sit around all day doing nothing, to them being the leading cause of COVID-19 transmission since they care more about going out to have fun, than those around them getting sick. These statements stand in stark contrast to the political discourse which we hear quite often, that of ‘youths not being the future of this country, but the present’.

If youths really are to be treated as today’s leaders, instead of tomorrow’s, it’s only fitting that Maltese political discourse ought to reflect that. Let’s the ongoing debate surrounding marijuana legalisation and decriminalisation as a textbook example.

It seems to have now become the norm to describe the drawing of attention towards the marijuana debate as a means to buy the votes of youths, or suggest that it’s the only issue which youths care about. The former insinuates that youths as a whole are mainly preoccupied with the smoke of marijuana being made legal, and the former indicates that youths are not capable of having a critical outlook to this, any other issue for that matter.

Ultimately, what matters to youths may be about more than just making it legally permissible to smoke a joint, as they are capable of forming views which are independent of the stereotypes which are hurled at them so often. 

A young person’s vote is worth more than just when a general election happens to be round the corner.  A person’s mental health warrants as much attention during and after a pandemic, as do all the sectors being negatively impacted.

Written by: Jacob Callus

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