This year, The Mental Health Foundation have recognised 9th – 15th May as the week of mental health awareness. This year, the theme explored is the effects of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness affects millions of people both in the UK and worldwide. It contributes massively to difficult mental health struggles and was an important factor to the impact on mental health in the last two years, with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic necessitating lockdown procedures and severe restrictions upon seeing friends and family members.
According to gov.uk between March and June 2020 (the time in which schools were closed), symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were found to have increased significantly in both children and young people aged between 7.5 – 12 years old in comparison to before the pandemic (however, the nature of the research makes a definitive link between young people’s mental health and the pandemic harder to establish). Additionally in 2020, young people aged 16 – 24 who live in the most deprived areas of the UK also experienced increases in psychological distress that were 3.4 times larger than those in lesser deprived areas. More information can be found here.
Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, Paisley YMCA and other youth work services have since opened once again to the public to offer a space in which young people can come together to meet old friends and make new ones. The young people who attend our weekly clubs come from all over Renfrewshire and Glasgow too. In spite of this, they have formed lasting friendships that make them look forward to seeing each other every week. Our Makerspace provides a safe and welcoming environment for our young people to spend valuable time with each other and our youth workers and this kind of interaction is crucial to combat the effects of loneliness.
At one of our clubs this week, our young people talked about the ways technology in particular can help ease feelings of loneliness. It can provide a connection to other young people through online games and social media, which was a huge way for people to stay connected during the pandemic when meeting in person was difficult or impossible.
However, they discussed the ways in which technology could also make them feel alienated and more disconnected from others as it shouldn’t substitute for connections with people in the real world. Technology is an integral part of many young people’s lives and discussing the effect it can have on mental health and loneliness is a valuable conversation – both the advantages and disadvantages it can bring.
As we begin to come to terms with the long-term effects of the pandemic and what it means for the future, we must take into account the mental toll as well as the physical. Additionally, we will continue to reach out to young people and offer them as much care as we can through their struggles. Many young people suffer from loneliness and isolation and we provide them with understanding and support through resources such as through our social clubs, youth work and activities, as well as recommending other resources and encouraging a positive and safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.
This week, we reflect on the effect loneliness and isolation can have on our young people and we encourage them to seek help and guidance through mental health resources and youth work designed to help them through this difficult time this week and for the foreseeable future. Together, we can show there is always someone who can help and no one is truly alone.