Children in NSW are returning to school after a year of intermittent lockdowns and home schooling. The Australian living environment, like in most countries, seems very uncertain. An uncertainty which disproportionately impacts young people.
“I was looking forward to going away with my family during the holidays but now we had to cancel our trip”. Savanna’s family lives in the Inner West of Sydney, a zone which was first to be banned from any non-essential travel in response to the spike in Covid-19 cases in 2021. Alongside Fairfield the Inner West suffered the longest lockdowns.
“It feels like whenever you get a little hope things break again.” she explains. Savanna* struggles with feelings of anxiety and loneliness. She is one of the growing member of young people in Australia who experiences very high levels of psychological distress (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 2020). Rates of psychological distress have risen sharply among young people.
“The Bushfires, followed by a year of lockdowns and global uncertainty, have really hurt young people across Australia” CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Australia Mark Watt states. “We’ve seen an unprecedented need for our mentoring services all over the country, so much so that we currently cannot meet demand.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters are an early-intervention charity who offer mentoring services to vulnerable young people.
“For most people the last 2 years have been hard. But if you don’t have a good support network, or your family has been impacted by poor parental mental health, family violence or economic hardship then these years will have been devastating. And it’s the young person who will feel all the weight of the issues, without having any power to change them.” Mark explains.
Overall decline in mental health
Children’s mental health has been on a steady decline since the early 2010s. Long-term research in the area has shown that young persons aged 12–18 experienced 24.2% mental distress in 2018, up from 18.7 per cent in 2012. Experts are now estimating this figure will go well over 30% in 2021 as a result of two disastrous years*(Australia Talks National Survey).
The impact of the Bushfires followed by Covid-19 has meant many young people have been more isolated, have less of a sense of community and don’t know who to turn to. School dances, sports carnivals and graduations have been cancelled. Instead young people get to experience these events as tiny icons on a screen. Their sense of achievement, meaning and significance is diminished signifcantly. Add to that a lack of contact with peers and an increased time online, and you start appreciating why their mental health is so adversely impacted.
Psychologists have seen increased suicidal ideation, anxiety and depression. NSW has been “lucky” only to have 21 days of home-schooling in the last year. In Melbourne young people were in their 31st week of homeschooling this month— that’s 217 days they have been isolated from their friends and school environments.
How Can We Help
As humans we are wired for social interaction. Connecting with others helps us feel good and maintain a sense of well-being.
“It’s not just about how many likes you get. You need to create meaningful connections. That is what young people are missing” Mark, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters explains.
With parents continue to be burdened by additional demands during this time it is important to come together as a community. Mentoring is an evidence-based technique that works.
“Our mentoring program connects a young person with a mentor in a meaningful way. Research we conduct shows that 95% of young people on our mentoring program felt supported during Covid.”
This while attempted suicides by young people in Victoria have spiked over 184% as the Kidshelpline revealed earlier this month (Kidshealpline, 2021). The impact of this pandemic will be felt for years to come, especially for young people. That is why it is essential we band together as a community, and offer support to those who need it most. Together we are strong.
You can find out more about the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program here: https://bigbrothersbigsisters.org.au