Phrases like ‘catch-up’ may be damaging to young people, Dr Alex George says

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·2-min read

Using phrases such as “lost generation” and “catch-up” when addressing the impact of Covid-19 on young people could be “damaging” to them, the Government’s youth mental health ambassador has said.

Dr Alex George, an A&E doctor and star of TV’s Love Island, told MPs that “we must steer away from that language” as it is leaving young people concerned about their futures as a result of the pandemic.

His comments came as England’s new children’s commissioner said she was “absolutely determined” to make sure that children are prioritised so they do not become the “lost generation” following Covid-19.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made £1.7 billion of “catch-up” funding available in England to help children who have faced disruption from school and college closures during the pandemic.

But addressing the education select committee, Dr George urged caution on using negative language to describe learning disruption and he said he had raised concerns about such messaging to Number 10.

Regarding phrases like “lost generation” and “catch-up”, he said: “These are I think hugely potentially damaging to young people.

“They do listen, they see the media, they see social media, and I just wonder where that leaves young people feeling like they are left? ‘Well if I don’t catch up then what am I?’

“And I’ve actually had that echoed in messages across social media to myself – a lot of concern from young people saying: ‘Am I part of this lost generation? What does that mean for our futures?’

Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said it was a “lesson for all of us” as he added that MPs have been using the words often.

The former Love Island contestant was appointed as a youth mental health ambassador by the Prime Minister last month.

Dr George said focusing on wellbeing alongside academia was “vital” as children return to school.

He added: “Just like giving children time to form their social groups and again trying to bring that focus on wellbeing as a whole.”

Dr George called for school exclusions to be “stopped for now” as it can affect disadvantaged groups.

The Love Island star has been campaigning for better mental health support following the death of his younger brother, Llyr, last year.

The 19-year-old, who was due to attend medical school, took his own life after suffering mental health issues.

Addressing MPs, he said stigma around mental health needs to be addressed.

“My brother took his life six months or so ago and he never spoke to anyone, or reached out, or told anyone that he was struggling,” Dr George said.