The past year has been tough, filled with a sense of uncertainty and confusion that’s engulfed the entire nation. Unfortunately, countless lockdowns have led to forced social isolation and, as a result, a tremendous strain has been placed on the public’s mental health.
Due to a breakdown in communication and support, young people have been among those heavily affected, almost 70 per cent* of young people found the pandemic difficult to cope with, experiencing long-term, negative effects on their mental health.
The devastating impact of coronavirus on young people is evident, with many developing symptoms of anxiety. Now, one key concern remains: what will the future look like as we return to some semblance of normality and how can we better support young people struggling with their mental health? It’s vital that we remain connected, start important conversations and create a sense of community for younger generations.
Thankfully, experts are recognising this need and resources are being made readily available, highlighting the importance of this issue.
For example, Youth Links is a peer support group founded by Essex-based mental health and wellbeing charity Trust Links; this free project is open to those aged between 11 and 18, offering a range of therapeutic, creative and social activities that are designed to enhance and improve mental wellbeing. It aims to combat the mental health crisis we’re facing by providing a safe space for self-reflection and growth, helping young people to become more resilient and empowered.
Here, Trust Links discuss how Youth Links can positively impact young people, outlining the benefits of peer support groups and why they are fundamental to the wellbeing of young adults. Whilst we experience continued confusion and uncertainty as restrictions ease, we certainly need to be aware of these benefits.
You’ll feel connected and valued
After almost a year of social isolation, many young people are uncertain of what’s to come; being at home for so long has changed our lives and now the idea of ‘normality’ is understandably making lots of young people feel anxious.
This is of course negatively impacting the wellbeing of young people; pressures that surround their return to school, university and/or ‘normal, pre-Covid life’ are sparking feelings of uncertainty, whilst lots of young people find it difficult to express these emotions. This is why group support networks are so important for young people; they provide a safe, private space within which they can openly share their feelings, paving the way for a clearer mind and more positive outlook. These groups are entirely non-judgemental, providing the support that so many young people are currently needing. Meanwhile, these groups enrich the sense of community that young people have perhaps lacked throughout lockdown, reminding them that they’re valued and cared for by those around them. Feeling connected to a community is incredibly important when nurturing a young person’s mental health, making group sessions something we all ought to be aware of.
They provide consistent support
Peer support groups offer a place of relaxation, opportunities to reflect and even time to nurture creativity. Most importantly however, peer group sessions offer a source of consistent support; they’re reliable and something that young people can count on, no questions asked. After a year of such turmoil, this is powerful and will unquestionably help young people to feel grounded and safe.
You can meet like-minded young people
Unfortunately, there are many young people who believe that they’re the only ones to feel the way they do – they think they’re alone and that no one will understand their emotions. Peer groups help to address this feeling of intense isolation by building a community of like-minded young people; in turn, they can share their thoughts with people who really do understand, whilst building invaluable friendships. Projects like Youth Links play a vital role in helping to grow an individual’s support network, connecting young people who are facing similar struggles to ultimately show them that no matter how lonely they feel, they are never alone and support is always available.
They foster the development of essential social skills
Peer support groups also help young people to develop essential social skills, helping them to remain connected and supported in the long-term. Currently, as we leave a period of isolation and segregation, projects like this can make a monumental difference, enhancing a young person’s self-confidence and communication skills more than ever. Understanding how to articulate our emotions aids better mental health; if a peer support group can do just that, it’s achieved its goal. After all, the first step to finding help is admitting that you need it.
Peer support groups also teach attendees helpful coping techniques, for example breathing strategies they can implement when they start feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Overall, they equip young people with the skills necessary to face and address the struggles of day-to-day life.
Youth Links’ doors are open across South East Essex. If you or a young person you know would like to join the group you can call 01702 213 134 or email Trust Links directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Statistic from Young Minds 2021