Through school disruptions, circumscribed employment opportunities, and limited familial, peer, and social interactions (Brooks et al., 2020; Holmes et al., 2020), young people have been adversely affected by COVID-19. They have generally reported high levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression (Varga et al., 2021), but those who are socio-economically and demographically disadvantaged have been disproportionately affected, in Singapore (Beyond Social Services, 2021), and globally (Graham & Grinstein-Weiss, 2021). However, some young people also benefited from the pandemic. Despite important developmental implications, COVID-19’s differential impact on youth psychological well-being, in terms of young people being affected or having benefited, has not been adequately examined.
Guided by the multi-system approach to resilience (Masten and Motti-Stefanidi, 2020), focused on resilience at the individual, family, and community level and which brought attention to young people already struggling with pre-pandemic risks and developmental harms, this study documented the contrasting impact of COVID-19 on youth psychological well-being in Singapore, in terms of how different young people were disadvantaged or benefited. An explanatory sequential mixed-methods research design involving an online survey with 552 participants and 15 focus group discussions with 68 participants was applied.
The study builds upon extant literature exploring well-being disparities based on socio-economic and health conditions (Chen et al., 2022; Kanter et al., 2021), virus exposure (Rolland, 2020), risks and assets (Magson et al., 2021), and a preceding study on COVID-19’s effects on the work-live-learn-play arrangements of Singaporean young people (Tan, Chua, & Kwan, under review).
Using a latent profile analysis, young Singaporeans of lower socio-economic status (i.e., receiving financial aid or school assistance, living in smaller houses, with less-educated parents, and high levels of economic stress and worry) were the most depressed and anxious. Conversely, those of higher socio-economic status reported less life dissatisfaction, and analysis of the focus group discussions, in the tradition of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014; Corbin & Strauss, 2014), further found that many of them flourished during COVID-19. While the pandemic created different stressors for most, the two youth groups possessed different packages of work-live-learn-play conditions.
During COVID-19, those most affected worked part-time, stressed over income and virus exposure (work), lived in smaller flats, saw family infrequently, had poor familial relationships (live), had weak digital access, struggled with peer- and teacher-support (learn), and had weak social connections (play). On the other hand, those who benefited did not have to work or worry about household income (work), had their own rooms and good parental and sibling relationships (live), enjoyed strong digital access and support from well-resourced schools (learn), and had strong peer connections (play).
Conclusions and Policy/Practice Implications:
Dealing with intersecting youth inequalities requires attention not only on those who have been disproportionately affected, but also young people who have benefited. Although investments in professional resources such as school counsellors and therapists to alleviate mental health crises and emergencies are important, the structural conditions (work, live, learn, play) demand attention too. Findings should guide practitioners to prioritise outreach and policymakers to craft future interventions.