COVID-19 cases are highest in young adults. We need to partner with them for the health of the whole community



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Philippa Collin, Western Sydney University; Melissa Kang, University of Technology Sydney, and Rachel Skinner, University of Sydney

The World Health Organisation recently warned that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who may be unaware they’re infected, are driving the spread of COVID-19.

Australian data confirms coronavirus is more common in younger adults. People aged 20-29 have continually had the highest rates of COVID-19 cases.

To reduce these rates and support young people to play their part in stemming community transmission, we need to understand their experiences during the pandemic.

Less severe, but more prevalent

There’s limited evidence on the physical effects of the disease in young people. But epidemiological data suggests it’s less severe in young adults than older adults, and recovery among people in their 20s and 30s is usually rapid and complete.

The virus may be present for several days before there are any symptoms, and many young people will have few or no symptoms at all.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some young people, particularly those who have underlying health conditions or who smoke, may experience severe illness, with potentially long-term effects on their health.

Even young people with mild cases may have prolonged symptoms that prevent their return to work and normal activities.




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Because one of the key indications for testing is the presence of symptoms, testing is understandably lower in this age group.

At the same time, everyday activities common to young people — such as working in casualised and frontline jobs, or visiting multiple venues on a night out — may mean an infected person without symptoms inadvertently transmits the virus across different networks.

Recent public health messaging targeting young people portrays them as naïve or lax. But if we’re going to advise and support them effectively, we need a greater appreciation of the indirect effects COVID-19 has on young people — and how they’re responding.

The indirect effects

COVID-19 has radically affected young adults’ work, study, social lives and caring responsibilities.

Importantly, the various restrictions have exacerbated the social and economic inequalities many young people experience.

Among those aged 15-24, 30% were unemployed or underemployed already before COVID-19.

Nearly 50% of young people have experienced housing stress in the past five years — a continuing trend during the pandemic — while youth homelessness has substantially increased in recent years.

Young man lies in bed, looking at thermometer.
Younger people who catch COVID-19 often have mild or no symptoms.
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The OECD has urged governments to take an intergenerational approach to policy making to reduce the long-term social and economic adversities young people could face from deep recession, extreme unemployment and worsening mental illness.

The most disadvantaged are likely to be worst affected, including those young people who already experience barriers to accessing social, psychological and health services.




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How are young people responding?

In the community, young people have reported they’re aware of and are trying to adhere to public health directives to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

Their top concern has been the health and welfare of their family and friends, followed by the pandemic’s effects on their study and immediate and long-term employment. Young people are also reporting declines in their mental health, especially feelings of depression and hopelessness.

Young Australians from multicultural backgrounds have raised concerns about unequal access to technology as universities, health services and many workplaces shift to remote and online modes. They also worry about the effect of COVID-19 on their education, increases in domestic violence and discrimination.

A young woman wearing a mask looks at her phone. She is in the supermarket.
Public health messaging is likely to be most effective for young people if it’s designed with them.
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However, young people right across the community are also demonstrating they want to play an active role in the COVID-19 response and recovery, and help others.

They’re leading initiatives to address growing inequalities and inform social and health research and policy; they’re working with advocacy organisations to create relevant COVID-19 resources; and more.

Engaging with young people

Unsurprisingly, many young people are turning off from news media, because they’re feeling fatigued, want to look after their mental health, or because they’re trying to avoid misinformation.

Meanwhile, public health communications to date have been generic, allocated blame or been confusing.

As Australians learn to live with changing or fewer restrictions, governments can start by listening to and communicating respectfully with young people — including those most vulnerable, unaware, or distrustful of government messaging.

While we commend Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for using videos and memes to share information on his Facebook page, peer-based communication is most likely to engage young people.

Moreover, research on how to achieve adherence with public health directives — such as vaccination — shows messaging must be evidence-based, tailored to the needs of different groups, and directly address their concerns.

Importantly, communications need to be two-way, regular, transparent and respectful.




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Government policy and communications will be more likely to positively influence community behaviours if they’re developed with the people they’re targeting — something the NSW government has started to do.

Governments everywhere should partner with young people to understand their changing contexts and views, and channel these insights, along with latest epidemiology, into youth-centred public health responses. This will be fundamental to addressing the social determinants of health, arresting community spread and protecting the whole community.The Conversation

Philippa Collin, Associate Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; Melissa Kang, Associate professor, University of Technology Sydney, and Rachel Skinner, Professor in child and adolescent health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

1 in 3 young adults is lonely – and it affects their mental health



One in three 18 to 25 year olds reported feeling lonely three or more times in the past week.
Todd Diemer

Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

More than one in three young adults aged 18 to 25 reported problematic levels of loneliness, according to a new report from Swinburne University and VicHealth.

We surveyed 1,520 Victorians aged 12 to 25, and examined their experience of loneliness. We also asked about their symptoms of depression and social anxiety.

Overall, one in four young people (aged 12 to 25) reported feeling lonely for three or more days within the last week.




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Among 18 to 25 year olds, one in three (35%) reported feeling lonely three or more times a week. We also found that higher levels of loneliness increases a young adult’s risk of developing depression by 12% and social anxiety by 10%.

Adolescents aged 12 to 17 reported better outcomes, with one in seven (13%) feeling lonely three or more times a week. Participants in this age group were also less likely to report symptoms of depression and social anxiety than the 18 to 25 year olds.

Young adulthood can be a lonely time

Anyone can experience loneliness and at any point in life but it’s often triggered by significant life events – both positive (such as new parenthood or a new job) and negative (bereavement, separation or health problems).

Young adults are managing new challenges such as moving away from home and starting university, TAFE or work. Almost half (48%) of the young adults in our survey lived away from family and caregivers. Almost 77% were also engaged in some sort of work.




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Young people at high school may be buffered from loneliness because they’re surrounded by peers, many of whom they have known for years. But once they leave the safety of these familiar environments, they are likely to have to put in extra effort to forge new ties. They may also feel more disconnected from the existing friends they have.

During this transition to independence, young adults may find themselves with evolving social networks, including interactions with colleagues and peers of different ages. Learning to navigate these different relationships requires adjustment, and a fair bit of trial and error.

Is social media use to blame?

Social media has its positives and negatives.
freestocks.org

The reliance on social media to communicate is often thought to cause loneliness.

No studies I’m aware of have examined the cause-effect between loneliness and social media use.

There is some evidence that those who are lonely are more likely to use the internet for social interactions and spend less time in real life interactions. But it’s unclear whether social media use causes more loneliness.

While social media can be used to replace offline relationships with online ones, it can also be used to both enhance existing relationships and offer new social opportunities.

Further, a recent study found that the relationship between social media use and psychological distress was weak.

Is loneliness a cause or effect of mental ill health?

Loneliness is bad for our physical and mental health. Over a six-month period, people who are lonely are more likely to experience higher rates of depression, social anxiety and paranoia. Being socially anxious can also lead to more loneliness at a later time.

The solution isn’t as simple as joining a group or trying harder to make friends, especially if one also already feels anxious about being with people.

While lonely people are motivated to connect with others they are also more likely to experience social interactions as stressful. Brain imaging studies show lonely people are less rewarded by social interactions and are more attuned to distress of others than less lonely counterparts.

Making friends can be a stressful experience.
Andrew Neel

When lonely people do socialise, they are more likely to engage in self-defeating actions, such as being less cooperative, and show more negative emotions and body language. This is done in an (often unconscious) attempt to disengage and protect themselves from rejection.

Lonely people are also more likely to find reasons people cannot be trusted or do not live up to particular social expectations, and to believe others evaluate them more negatively than they actually do.

What can we do about it?

One way to address these invisible forces is to help young people think in more helpful ways about friendship, and to understand how they can influence others through their emotions and behaviours.




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Parents, educators and counsellors can play a role in educating children and young people about the dynamics of evolving friendships. This might involve helping the young person to evaluate their own behaviours and thought patterns, understand how they play an active role in building relationships, and to support them to interact differently.

More specific strategies could include:

  • challenging unhelpful thinking or negative views about others
  • helping young people identify their strengths and learn how they’re important in forging strong, meaningful relationships. If the young person identifies humour as a strength, for instance, this might involve discussing how they can use their humour to establish rapport with others.

Educational programs can do more to address the social health of young people and these discussions can be integrated into health education classes.

Additionally, because young people are already frequent and competent users of technology, carefully crafted digital tools could be developed to target loneliness.

These tools could help young people learn skills to develop and maintain meaningful relationships. And because lonely people are more likely to avoid others, digital tools could also be used as one way to help young people build social confidence and practise new skills within a safe space.




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A cornerstone of any solution, however, is to normalise feelings of loneliness, so feeling lonely is seen not as a weakness but rather as an innate human need to connect. Loneliness is likely to negatively impact on health when it is ignored, or not properly addressed, allowing the distress to persist.

Identifying and normalising feelings of loneliness can help lonely people consider different avenues for action.

We don’t yet know the lifelong impact of loneliness on today’s young people, so it’s important we take action now, by increasing awareness and giving young people the tools to develop and maintain meaningful social relationships.

Michelle Lim, the author of this piece, is available for a Q+A on Tuesday the 1st October from 3pm-4pm AEST to take questions on this topic. Please post your questions in the comments below.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COLOMBIA: CHURCH LEADERS UNDER FIRE


One pastor missing, three others reported killed in past month.

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, November 4 – Christians in Colombia are anxious to learn the fate of pastor William Reyes, missing since Sept. 25, even as three other pastors have gone missing.

Reyes, a minister of the Light and Truth Inter-American Church and member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (FRAMEN, Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao), left a meeting in Valledupar, Cesar, at 10 a.m. that morning heading home to Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived.

Family members and fellow ministers fear that Reyes may have been murdered by illegal armed groups operating in northern Colombia. Since March of this year, FRAMEN has received repeated threats from both the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary units.

Abduction is another possibility. Often criminals hold their victims for weeks or months before contacting family members to demand ransom, a tactic designed to maximize the anxiety of the victim’s loved ones before proceeding with ransom negotiations.

In the past month, three other Christian pastors were reportedly killed in separate incidents across the country. According to Pedro Acosta of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL, Consejo Evangélico de Colombia), two ministers died in the northern Caribbean region and a third in Buenaventura on the Pacific coast.

At press time, members of the Peace Commission’s Documentation and Advocacy team, which monitors cases of political violence and human rights abuse, were traveling in those areas to verify the identities of the victims and circumstances of the killings.

 

Demand for Action

On Oct. 4, churches organized a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Reyes. Thousands of marchers filled the streets of Maicao to demand his immediate return to his family. The FRAMEN-sponsored rally featured hymns, sermons and an address from Reyes’s wife, Idia.

Idia Reyes continues to work as secretary of FRAMEN while awaiting news of her husband. The couple has three children, William, 19, Luz Mery, 16, and Estefania, 9.

CEDECOL and Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-based organization that assists violence victims, launched a letter-writing campaign to draw international attention to the case and request government action to help locate Reyes.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support from churches in Canada, the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom,” stated an Oct. 26 open letter from Janna Hunter Bowman of Justapaz and Michael Joseph of CEDECOL’s Peace Commission. “Human rights violations of church people and of the civilian population at large are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz Peace Commission program registered the murder of four pastors and 22 additional homicides of lay leaders and church members.”

Some of those killings may have been carried out by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, according to evidence emerging in recent weeks. Prosecutors and human rights groups have released evidence that some military units abduct and murder civilians, dress their bodies in combat fatigues and catalogue them as insurgents killed in battle.

According to an Oct. 29 report in The New York Times, soldiers commit the macabre murders for the two-fold purpose of “social cleansing” – the extrajudicial elimination of criminals, drug users and gang members – and to gain promotions and bonuses.

The scandal prompted President Alvaro Uribe to announce on Wednesday (Oct. 29) that he had dismissed more than two dozen soldiers and officers, among them three generals, implicated in the murders.

Justapaz has documented the murder of at least one evangelical Christian at the hands of Colombian soldiers. José Ulises Martínez served in a counterinsurgency unit until two years ago, but left the army “because what he had to do was not coherent with his religious convictions,” according to his brother, pastor Reinel Martínez.

Martínez was working at a steady job and serving as a leader of young adults in the Christian Crusade Church in Cúcuta on Oct. 29, 2007, when two acquaintances still on active duty convinced him to go with them to Bogotá to request a pension payment from the army. He called his girlfriend the following day to say he had arrived safely in the capital.

That was the last she or his family heard from him.

Two weeks later, Martínez’s parents reported his disappearance to the prosecutor’s office in Cúcuta. The ensuing investigation revealed that on Oct. 1, 2007, armed forces officers had presented photographs of Martinez’s body dressed in camouflage and identified as a guerrilla killed in combat. Later the family learned that Martínez was killed in Gaula, a combat zone 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Bogotá.

Such atrocities threaten to mar the reputation of Colombia’s Armed Forces just as the military is making remarkable gains against the FARC and other insurgent groups. Strategic attacks against guerrilla bases eliminated key members of the FARC high command in 2008. A daring July 2 rescue of one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other high-profile FARC hostages was greeted with jubilation around the world.

Yet in Colombia’s confused and convoluted civil war, Christians are still targeted for their role in softening the resolve of both insurgent and paramilitary fighters.

“I believe preventative security measures must be taken in order to protect victims from this scourge that affects the church,” Acosta said in reference to the ongoing threats to Colombian Christians. “In comparison to information from earlier [years], the cases of violations have increased.”

Report from Compass Direct News