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CEO blog: Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

13th May 2022 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

The past few years have seen issues around loneliness and isolation rise up the agenda for us all and we welcome that Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is focussing on loneliness.

Loneliness and isolation, some as a result of the pandemic, has had a particular impact on young people’s mental and physical health, and we don’t yet know what the full long-term impact will be. Research indicates that young people are more likely to feel lonely than older age groups, with 40% of young people aged 16-24 reported often feeling lonely. The Prince’s Trust revealed that over 30% of young people say they don’t know how to make new friends and that they’ve never felt more alone.

It’s never been easy to be a young person grappling with the vast amount of change that happens between 16 to 24, the pressures of education, decisions about the future and transitioning into adulthood. We all know the pressures the digital age brings, the need to always be online and available, the need for a perfect online persona, and the acute, 24 hour awareness of what others in your peer group are doing and what you’re missing out on.

I want to help young people to have a great life, not to try to look like they are online. That’s why Youth Zones are so important. They provide opportunities for young people to get out of their bedrooms, to build genuine connections with peers, find positive role models, be inspired and connect around shared interests. And it’s proven to have a positive impact – 73% of Youth Zone members say they feel less isolated.

Speaking to a member of Mahdlo, Oldham Youth Zone they shared that they didn’t think it was possible to make friends outside of school before attending the Youth Zone, now they’ve made friends and have connected with others who have similar interests. 85% of young people’s waking hours are outside of school, so it’s important they have safe places like youth clubs to socialise and meet their peers.

Of course, loneliness isn’t always about being alone it can also be about perception, feeling misunderstood by friends and family or feeling unable to talk to others. It’s heart-breaking that 1 in 7 young people say they don’t have a trusted adult to speak to. Having a positive relationship with a trusted adult is so important for a young person, someone they can rely on and turn to for support or advice who isn’t a parent or teacher. Across our Network of Youth Zones, youth workers are those trusted adults for many members. Someone who truly cares, wants to help, and can provide consistency during turbulent times.

Youth workers specialise in having in-depth conversations with young people, learning about their situation, allowing them to be heard and helping them access the support they need.

Great progress has been made in recent years to reduce the stigma around mental health. We’re creating a culture where young people can now talk about how they are feeling. This week across our Network, Youth Zones have been sharing tips with members on how to look after their mental health and to tackle feelings of loneliness. For example, at Wigan Youth Zone they have been stimulating conversations around loneliness and encouraging staff to share their own experiences with young people. Last year they interviewed Dave Philip, their Head of Sports, about his experience of loneliness, they asked the same questions a year on to see how things have changed – you can watch Dave’s interview here.