Young men are more likely than young women to break lockdown rules, psychologists suggest.
A team from the University of Sheffield and Ulster University questioned just under 2,000 13-24 year olds.
Half of the men aged 19-24 had met friends or family members they did not live with during lockdown, compared to 25% of women.
The researchers called on the government to better target messages for young people.
Non-compliance ‘linked to depression’
Just under half of all those questioned – 917 young people – said they were feeling significantly more anxious during the lockdown – particularly if they had a parent who was a key worker.
Those with depression were more likely to flout lockdown rules by meeting up with friends and leaving the house unnecessarily; while those with anxiety were more likely to practise social distancing and regularly wash their hands.
Dr Liat Levita from the University of Sheffield says mental health is no justification for not following the rules, but it might help us understand why it’s difficult for certain people to comply.
“The more someone is depressed, the less compliant and de-motivated they are.
“So if you need to hand-wash more often and need to make an effort in following the guidelines, it’s not something that you’re actually going to be able to do very well.”
Professor of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation from Kings College London, Prof Dame Til Wykes says feeling anxious is pretty normal with so much uncertainty and a loss of social support.
“The crucial questions are how long this lasts and what support young people need.
“This [situation] can have a serious impact on those with pre-existing mental health problems and some will certainly need some formal psychological treatment.”
Dr Levita agrees it’s important we don’t wait to help young people with their mental health during the coronavirus crisis.
“If you have a broken leg, you don’t wait two months before you go to the hospital to get it fixed.”
Young men ‘take more risks’
This research found 150 out of 281 men aged 19-24 had met with a group of friends during lockdown, while a fifth had been reprimanded by police – either dispersed, fined or arrested as a result of breaking the rules
This male group was also more likely to think they weren’t at risk of catching Covid-19 or spreading it to others, and that following the government’s guidelines was not worthwhile.
Dr Levita says “we know that males in general take more risks and evolutionary psychologists have always explained that in terms of males trying to show off.
“They will take more risks and their decision-making processes are shaped by that so their behaviour actually makes sense to them.”
The findings come after recent statistics from the National Police Chief’s Council that found a third of those fined by police for breaking lockdown rules were aged 18-24 and eight out of 10 were men.
Across all ages, the study showed the majority were not complying with basic hygiene recommendations such as washing hands regularly, but most said they intended to follow the guidelines in future weeks.
The psychologists say the government must do more to explain the reasons for ongoing physical distancing to help young people understand lockdown rules.
The Department of Health and Social Care has highlighted the government’s campaign urging people to stay at home and the advice ministers give at the daily press briefing.