How to support young people facing increased mental health issues in lockdown
Friday, February 5, 2021
This year, Children’s Mental Health Week is a little different - while mental health related issues such as anxiety and stress continue to increase, children and young people have had the added strain and uncertainty that comes with battling a pandemic.
With emotions dramatically heightened over the past year, children are extremely vulnerable to increased mental health issues.
At YMCA Manchester, we want to highlight some of the top issues that children and young people are experiencing right now, and outline ways to help support them to feel mentally healthy, happy and safe.
The majority of children and young people have been faced with an ever changing routine since the pandemic began. For those younger individuals having to adopt homeschooling, and those older students who are independently working, it has led to a huge lack of consistency and stability.
For some who work well self-sufficiently, and those children who are receiving added support from parents, there have been potential benefits, but this can’t be said for everyone. For those who thrive working in a team and feel comforted by peers, it has been a huge struggle. Many children and young people are feeling extremely overwhelmed, and whilst remote techniques may work for some, we have to remember that every child and young individual is different.
To help with a sense of regularity and maintain familiar elements to a seemingly ever-changing schedule, routine is key. For instance, going to bed and getting up at the same time, wearing suitable clothing during learning hours (such as their uniform), and scheduling regular breaks in line with their school timetable can call really help. This will provide a level of routine which is recognisable, helping them to feel organised and structured in their mindset.
Sadly, stress is increasing rather than improving for many children and young people. Amongst the chaos and unpredictability of the ongoing pandemic, many students are feeling pressured to perform and produce the same standard of work as they would pre-Covid. Many young minds are battling hard to remain consistent in their level of learning, but are failing to recognise how much stress and pressure they are putting themselves under.
At YMCA Manchester we believe that children and young people need support in appreciating that the pandemic may have impacted on their mental abilities more than they think. It is natural to experience a fluctuation in their learning and they need to understand this is not failure. Taking regular breaks from their work will allow them to refocus and relieve a little stress.
During these key breaks, children and young people may benefit from reading, gardening, colouring, baking or perhaps undertaking a little exercise to help calm the mind. We must also not underestimate the power of humour - a little laughter can go a long way, triggering the release of endorphins and lowering stress hormones.
For some children and young people the postponement and cancellation of exams and tests has been a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. But for others, there are feelings of anger and frustration that their academic pathway has now changed. Many feel drained and exhausted with their end goal no longer in sight.
Children and young people need to know they are not on their own, with many others experiencing the same feelings and thoughts. They may take comfort in watching relevant accounts on YouTube and connecting with others on social media platforms who are displaying the same emotions. This can help create a much needed sense of peer community, making them feel supported and acknowledging they are not alone in what they are going through.
It’s important to remember that children and young people are already experiencing huge life changes, both physically and mentally. Many are therefore finding it extremely difficult adjusting to the lifestyle changes resulting from the pandemic, in addition to the hormonal changes they may already be facing. To help cope with or work through these changes, some children and young people may have become overly attached to love-ones, while others may be experiencing increased anger and frustration.
The importance of daily walks and fresh air is absolutely crucial to helping individuals cope with changing moods, especially when cooped up in the same environment for so long. Therefore, we urge parents to get their children outside, even though this may prove challenging, as it is vital not only for their mental health, but also physical wellbeing and to give a much needed boost to energy levels.
At YMCA Manchester we want to help support children and young people through this difficult time, so please check out our social channels for activities you can get involved in. We want you to know that although we are living through a pandemic, we can still support YOU and help YOU with your mental health and wellbeing.
Olivia Morris is a Mental Health Champions volunteer at YMCA Manchester