“Would you forgive me if I lost my battle with life?”
The text came through late in the night and I didn’t pick it up until the morning.
Thankfully, Dara didn’t lose his battle with life that night but he has been battling with negative thoughts for a long time. And these have increased during lockdown when, for almost a year, Dara has been unable to connect with his friends - or anybody other than his immediate family.
Sally is popular, bright, and beautiful inside and out - 17 years old and a key member of our youth group. Or at least she was until COVID hit and the youth club closed its doors and opened up on computer screens. Sally needed the human connection and, if she couldn’t get it at our youth club or at school, she would find a way to connect with her friends outside. This is when Sally became pregnant and made the choice to have an abortion which has left her questioning her worth and her path in life.
Evidence suggests there are 5 key steps you can take to improve your mental health, (see more here on the NHS website) - and connecting with other people is number one on the list. The NHS website goes on to specify that we shouldn’t rely on social media or wider technology for these connections, so we mustn’t be surprised to find young people like Dara are struggling.
Dara is a good example of someone who has fallen through the cracks. Without being in school or attending youth club, his mental health has deteriorated behind the safety of a Zoom meeting. Many people think that this can be fixed by the return to school but, for Dara, and many young people like him, the return to school fills him with as much anxiety as staying at home.
And, as for Sally, she has chosen not to return to school, fearing what will be said about her as a result of her choices.
The impact on young people’s mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for a long time to come and we need to be prepared to support them through this.
67% of young people aged 13 - 25 believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
This includes young people who had been bereaved by the virus, or who have undergone traumatic experiences during the pandemic. It also includes those who are concerned about whether friendships will recover, or who are worried about the loss of education or their prospects of finding work (1).
There is more that needs to be done and, as adults, we should be consciously investing in the lives of young people to build them into strong, capable, and proactive members of society.
Embedded in the teaching of our Esteem programme of relationships and sex education is the message to young people that they are significant, precious, and unique individuals. Building healthy self-esteem is key and, as the programme name suggests, is at the heart of our work.
Our Esteem training course enables people with a heart for young people to become relationships and sexual health educators. Will you join us in supporting young people in recovering from the impacts of the pandemic? We’d love to hear from you.
For young people like Dara and Sally having a space to explore their feelings and learn coping strategies will be a crucial part of their journey back to good mental health.