Young men are more likely than young women to break lockdown rules, research suggests.
A team of psychologists led by Dr Liat Levita from the University of Sheffield surveyed 2,000 13- to 24-year-olds in the UK to examine the impact of the pandemic on young people.
They found that half of young men aged 19-24 had breached lockdown rules to meet friends, compared with a quarter of women of the same age.
A fifth of men aged 19-21 are thought to have been dispersed, arrested, fined or taken home by police for breaking the rules, compared with one in 10 women in this age group.
According to the research, men aged 19-24 were likely to have a positive perception of people their age breaking the rules. It was suggested they could regard these people as “cool” and “independent”, while other groups saw them as “self-centred” and “immature”.
Researchers also found that up to half of young people now feel significantly more anxious than before the lockdown. The youngest teenagers showed the highest rates of anxiety, while older groups showed lower levels of overall wellbeing.
Those who were more anxious were more likely to comply with physical distancing measures, whereas those with higher levels of depression were more likely to break the rules.
People aged between 13-24 whose parents are key workers demonstrated significantly higher levels of Covid-19-related anxiety and trauma and worse overall wellbeing.
Levels of anxiety and depression were up to 10% higher among black and mixed race participants in the survey than white and Asian respondents.
The research team called on the government to do more to explain the reasons for ongoing physical distancing to persuade young men in particular to follow the rules as the lockdown begins to be eased.
“It is really striking how much older male adolescents stand out in terms of violating physical distancing rules,” Levita said. “This is consistent with what we know about their greater tendency to take risks, and reflects their belief that following the guidelines isnt worthwhile.
“Explaining the reasons behind ongoing physical distancing measures will be crucial to persuading young men to follow the rules as the government begins to ease the lockdown.”
She added: “We should also be careful in painting an overly bleak picture. Not everyone will experience this period negatively, and we found that some of our teens are enjoying being at home with their parents more than ever, and are not more anxious or worried than before.”
Prof Til Wykes, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Kings College London, said there needed to be a focus on “clear and accurate advice” with a focus on the responsibility of everyone to help stop the spread of coronavirus, and called for a public health approach to supporting young people.
“Increased anxiety and depression has been found in China too,” she said. “The crucial questions are how long this lasts and what support young people need for the world to feel safe and more predictable. This requires a public health approach, not necessarily a rush to a mental health service.”
She said young people living alone and those who do not have much support at home were understandably more likely to desire face-to-face communication. “Being anxious when we are facing so much uncertainty and a loss of social support is pretty normal,” Wykes said. “But this can have a serious impact on those with pre-existing mental health problems and some will certainly need some formal psychological treatment.”