MANY aspects of the lives of the 18,000 young people who live in the Ballarat region have been affected by COVID-19.
How young people, aged 15 to 24, live, learn and work has been impacted, in addition to the flow-on economic and social impacts.
And with the effects of the pandemic forecast to be felt for years to come, many young people are worried about their futures.
Khalyce Washington, a 22-year-old student from Darley, is one of these young people. A science student at the University of Melbourne, she normally commutes to and from university.
Though due to the pandemic, she has had to transition to online learning. The social isolation has been difficult to adjust to.
The main way that I've been impacted by COVID has been in terms of my mental wellbeing.Khalyce Washington
"The main way that I've been impacted by COVID has been in terms of my mental wellbeing. Not having those [social] outlets has been quite difficult for me, but I'm learning to adjust after so many months of living it."
Online learning has been a challenge in itself, in addition to being unable to complete laboratory subjects and learn the practical skills she would in hands-on learning, causing worry that she will be disadvantaged in her future career.
There were also initial worries about her grades, though her school decided not to count grades from the first semester of online learning towards students' degrees.
And with her current retail job put "on hold", she has been left without another important social outlet.
Though she has been lucky, as unlike the estimated 1400 young people who have lost employment since March, her workplace has continued to pay her even though she has not been working.
This has placed her in a fortunate position, as the Ballarat region is experiencing high youth unemployment - likely to be about 25 per cent. This is reflective of the state average, though marginally lower than the national average.
Data and analysis recently released by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) highlights the biggest concerns for young people amid the pandemic.
The data, drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in addition to findings from a nationally representative poll of 1,020 young people (18-24), conducted by Essential Research on behalf of FYA in June 2020, highlights how young people have been affected by the pandemic.
An estimated 65 per cent of young people living in areas like Ballarat are studying part time or full time, though the findings highlight that 40 per cent of young people living in areas such as Ballarat do not believe they will find a job that is part of their long term career plan in the next two years, or ever.
Seeing how financially insecure many people around her have become as a result of the pandemic has also caused Ms Washington to re-think her dream career - neuroscience based research - to something with a stable income such as working in public health.
"I am terrified of having job insecurity down the road - I've seen it with my parents and other loved ones," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about losing my job because of unexpected global circumstances."
Meanwhile, almost half of young people living in areas such as Ballarat are concerned about being unable to pay their bills due to losing their job or working reduced hours while more than 50 per cent are concerned about their mental wellbeing in the long term.
Ms Washington said mental health support for people, including for youth, during the pandemic had been "lacking".
While she lives at home with her family - meaning she does not have to pay rent or other bills - the wages have helped her to pay for increased psychology sessions.
While she saw a psychologist prior to the pandemic, she has increased her sessions to weekly in order to cope through the increased social isolation and with her other worries - though this has become costly since she used her 10 free subsidised sessions through Medicare.
She would like to see more funded psychology sessions - as while she has found a way to cover the costs, many of her friends and loved ones have not been able to.
Many people are really in need of support right now but cannot access it without a lot of added financial strainKhalyce Washington
"Many people are really in need of support right now but cannot access it without a lot of added financial strain," Ms Washington said.
Despite the difficulties, one silver lining has been the wider adoption of telehealth, meaning she has been able to access tailored psychological support from a Melbourne psychologist, rather than being limited to support services in Bacchus Marsh.
IN OTHER NEWS
Federal member for Ballarat, Catherine King, said it had been an "extraordinarily difficult year for our entire community" - from bushfires to the first wave of the virus, to approaching normality and then the second wave.
She said the mental health challenge should be front of mind in the pandemic response.
"In usual times it is often too difficult for members of our community to access the support they need and the pressures of the pandemic have only made it worse.
Every person affected by this crisis must be able to access mental health support. Financial hardship should be no barrier to getting the treatments people needFederal member for Ballarat, Catherine King
"Every person affected by this crisis must be able to access mental health support. Financial hardship should be no barrier to getting the treatments people need," Ms King said.
"We know from the data that for clients accessing a subsidised mental health care plan around half are either nearing or have reached their annual limit, and were considered to require further session.
"We need to give all those people the support they need. This means that the Government should extend the number of sessions available under Medicare during this crisis."
FYA's Policy and Research Manager Kelly Fawcett said young people were experiencing a variety of challenges.
"Young people may have been in school and needed to transition to online learning, or at the start of their working lives and trying to navigate the most difficult job market seen since the Great Depression. Many of these issues existed before COVID and have only been exacerbated by the pandemic."
Ms Fawcett said young people have experience and opinions that could help governments to build solutions, so policy affecting them could be co-designed by them.
"They are the custodians of the future, so we need to listen to their voices to develop policies that support young people's wellbeing, job prospects and learning."
The federal minister for health, Greg Hunt, was also contacted, but The Courier did not receive a response by deadline.
- If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
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