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  • Writer's pictureMatilde Pozzato

Deterioration of mental health among young women persists after the pandemic

The young women’s mental health crisis that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic in The Netherlands keeps worsening a year and a half after the last restrictions were lifted.

During the pandemic, Statistics Netherlands registered an increasing trend in mental health deterioration among women. In 2021, nearly one-quarter of women 12 to 25 were considered mentally unhealthy. That’s nearly double the number recorded in 2019.

According to a study from Utrecht University, COVID-19 played a large role in the deterioration of young women’s mental health. Researchers believe that the pandemic enhanced and accelerated problems that already existed in society like extreme pressure to perform well in school or to meet family expectations.

Staged picture © Matilde Pozzato

Charlotte Bell (21) told The Groninger that she started struggling with negative thought patterns and dissociation problems in 2020 when she moved from Oxford to Groningen to start her Bachelor’s. Living away from home was a challenge that she was not ready for and— combined with the start of the pandemic— her mental health problems got so severe that they triggered celiac disease.

Bell’s professors were understanding of her situation and agreed to grant her extensions and notes from the classes she missed. However, her life during university was strongly impacted by her mental health problems as “I was so fatigued all the time that I could not take care of myself.” For example, she stopped journaling and exercising.

Between her mental health problems and the lockdowns, she decided to move back to Oxford and finish her Bachelor’s remotely. This allowed her to get better support from her family and friends in the UK but it also meant losing some of her friends in Groningen as not only was she away, but SHE “had no energy to reach out to my friends or reply to text messages.”

Charlotte Bell

The sharp rise in mental health problems signaled by Statistics Netherlands might not be the full picture. A study from Boston University explains that mentally unhealthy people are often stigmatized by and excluded from society. This is one of the main reasons why mental health problems are underreported.

Because official diagnoses and hospitalizations are documented in a person’s personal file many people prefer not to seek help to prevent their mental health problems from influencing other’s opinions of them.

Lilli Steudel’s (23) problems with mental health worsened during the pandemic but— because of the societal stigma— she thought twice before reporting them to her school, the University of Groningen. In 2020 she was diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder and since then she has been in therapy. She struggles with a lack of motivation, which worsened when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place and she lost structured schedules to follow. This slowed down her academic progress and she is now two years behind with her Bachelor’s.

When she was diagnosed, she talked with her study advisor and the university agreed to provide her with extra notes and exam extensions, as there were some days when she could not leave the house to go to class. In case of health problems, the University of Groningen offers the possibility to take time off and be partially reimbursed for tuition fees. However, Stuedel opted not to do this as she did not want her mental health problems to be forever reported on her file because “For many people mental illness does not count as an illness but to me, it almost feels like being paralyzed.”

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