Youth has always been a challenging time. Most of the changes young people endure are not by choice, such as changing schools, and the physical and emotional changes of adolescence. However, these are changes that can be planned for, and support can be given to make navigating the path to adulthood easier.
Over the last few years young people have had to face a challenge no one was prepared for. The pandemic changed all our lives. It removed the structure of our day-to-day and replaced it with a demand to constantly adapt to an ever-changing situation. For many, it removed the everyday connections we rely on to maintain good mental health. It also took away the positive experiences that balance out difficult times. It stole the chance to say goodbye to people and places central to our lives. For young people this meant not saying goodbye to valued school friends and teachers, missing prom and birthday celebrations or not being able to see loved ones before their deaths. Exams, always a time of stress, were made more difficult due to adaptations in learning during lockdowns. Many young people have expressed a sense of bereavement for the experiences and key life events they missed. They have also expressed anxiety at adapting back to ‘normal life’, particularly those who struggled before the pandemic for whom normal life wasn’t always that great anyway.
Since the pandemic, mental health concerns have multiplied for young people with one in four now saying they feel socially anxious, lonely, and overwhelmed. Connecting meaningfully is a key part of overcoming this. Connecting with family, friends, and others in their communities (especially trusted adults) has been shown to make people happier and healthier, both physically and mentally. Sharing vulnerabilities, common interests, values, and interests, and having people you can call or meet up with, to talk to and feel listened to if you are anxious or upset, is essential. It’s important to rebuild previous good connections and develop new ones.
For young people, reaching out is the first step and often the hardest. As Youth Mental Health Day 2022 passes, we can support our children and other young people in our lives by reassuring them they are not alone in facing and resolving mental health issues. Small steps can help. Urge the young person to reach out to a friend, a relative, a teacher or youth worker they are comfortable talking to, online or in person. An act as simple as going for a coffee or a walk can provide the respite they need to reframe their perception of the world. Young people should be encouraged not to avoid talking about the tough stuff. If talking is too difficult, writing out problems in a letter or text message, or even expressing feelings via a drawing, song or poem can help. We can all help this generation of young people by giving them the tools and means to reach out and connect meaningfully.
There are also professionals who can help. ChildLine offers 24/7 anonymous, confidential online and phone support on all aspects of mental health.