Children's Mental Health Week
In July 2020, the REACH team welcomed their first group of virtual work experience students. As part of their work for the week, some of the students chose to write blog posts on the experiences of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, we want to highlight the challenges that young people in south London have been facing at this time, as told in their own words. The following post uses quotes from three students aged 15-17.
One young person touched on how rapidly they’ve had to adjust to a number of different changes. They also noted how poor access to the internet has become a particular challenge for some:
As you all know we are currently in a global pandemic of COVID-19. The pandemic has made many changes to our lives and we have all had to adjust to these different changes rapidly, but the group within society that I believe has seen the biggest impact is young people. The virus has affected our daily routines and our normal life, it has also impacted our mental health and wellbeing.
Schools closed on March 20th and students have been learning online with work being sent from their teachers. This has been a massive change for young people as we have been responsible for our own learning and have been trying to work through the curriculum independently. It has been challenging to those who haven’t had good access to internet and those who find independent study difficult to adjust to.
Another young person highlighted how challenging they had found adapting to remote learning and a change to their routine:
From personal experience, I have struggled with online school. A high volume of work was set which left me feeling overloaded with essays and assignments as well as learning new content by myself. I had to depend on my own understanding of the subjects to pull through and not slack behind. I found myself losing a daily routine for school. My sleeping pattern suffered, I had a poor diet and lost motivation to do my work. These feelings caused me to continuously avoid doing assignments which added to my feelings of stress.
An added stress came from the uncertainty around exams and assessments. The cancellation of exams caused a huge feeling of anxiety for Year 11 – 13 students in particular. Many have felt overwhelmed by the enforcement of new centre assessed grading system where previous mock exam grades and class work contribute to final GCSE, AS and A level grades. This is very nerve-wracking for some who may find that they receive lower grades than if they’d sat the exams and beneficial for others who might find that their final results are better under the new grading system.
Changes to social interaction was also mentioned, including the lack of in person social interactions and the increase in time spent online:
Young people have also had to adjust to not being able to see their friends and extended family, which has affected wellbeing and mental health. We have been deprived of the social interactions outside of our households for several months. Many young people have switched to online alternatives to interact with their friends and family, and to kill time. We’ve been doing this in a number of ways, for example, using social media, phone calls, video calls and video games. Some parents are unhappy with the amount of time their children are now spending online, but I am sure that the parents would rather their child be online than catching the virus! In these weird and uncertain times, young people are just using what is available to them to make sure they don’t miss out on time spent with friends. I personally believe that the modern online alternatives are incredibly important for young people at the moment.
However, there have been some positives. One young person described how the change in routine has also led to discovering new things that they enjoy:
Lockdown has also been a time where a lot of teenagers have discovered something new like baking or even just cooking more foods for their family. When going into the shops at the beginning of lockdown, the flour shelves in the bakery isle were empty and there were no chocolate chips! I’ve spent more time helping in the garden over lockdown. I think that is really important to be outside and be around nature as it really helps with mental well-being.
To find services and organisations that can help to support you and your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, go to our COVID-19 Resources for Young People page. To learn more about the REACH study, click here. For more information on Children's Mental Health Week, click here.
REACH welcomes 100
work experience students
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures have brought several changes for everyone over the past six months. For young people, school closures soon led to increasing uncertainty around exams, university options and future career prospects.
At the beginning of April, during the virtual REACH Young Person’s Advisory Group meetings, we heard from young people who were concerned about how they would add to their CVs or applications for university after their work experience placements were cancelled. This inspired us to think of ways that we could create a work experience programme that could be completed entirely online. Our ambition was to create something that would be beneficial for every young person, irrespective of whether they’d like to go to university, enter an apprenticeship or find a job after secondary school.
“I hoped to understand more about REACH, psychology and how REACH works with collecting data and such. It has definitely exceeded my expectations and given me more information about not just REACH, psychology and mental health but also university, the future and the workplace.”
- Virtual work experience student
As part of our longstanding and extensive engagement programme, the REACH team have always welcomed work experience students to the office and valued the fantastic contributions young people have made to our website, newsletters, social media and much more.
Pictured above: Work experience student Millie at the REACH office, Summer 2019
We started to think about how this could be adapted for online delivery using virtual platforms and developed a programme that covered core aspects of mental health research including psychology, mental health and research methods. Despite the focus on mental health research, the programme was designed to develop skills for all young people, regardless of their age, previous knowledge, interests or chosen career path.
“[The top things I learned were] the history of psychology and the mental health section, it completely fascinated me, it really changed my views and made me feel so much more open to a future where I am involved with psychology.” - Virtual work experience student
To achieve this, participating students were assigned tasks to promote skills which are valuable in a variety of work environments including creating and delivering presentations, researching topics using reliable resources online, writing and creating social media and website content. The tasks were also designed to be flexible to allow students to explore their own interests and develop the skills which they felt would be most valuable to them.
The REACH virtual work experience placements have been a great success so far with over 100 young people engaging with the programme across two weeks in the summer holidays! When asked, over 95% of the students indicated that a key reason for taking part was to add to their CV or university applications, highlighting the need for virtual opportunities to be made available to young people during this unusual time.
“The REACH staff people were so lovely and created a lovely environment which can be quite hard to do on an online class/work environment and I had such an amazing week of learning and bonding which I really needed after about 5 months without proper socialisation.”
-Virtual work experience student
Pictured above: REACH virtual work experience students, August 2020
The students have produced some fantastic work including blogs, posters and plenty of advice and suggested content for our social media! After the fantastic feedback from the virtual work experience placements so far, the REACH team plan to run the programme throughout the year. If you’d like to get involved, you can find more information about becoming a REACH virtual work experience student by sending us an email at email@example.com.
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Taking care of yourself
A lot of things have changed for people all over the world in the past few weeks and months with concerns about coronavirus. It can be scary hearing about what has been happening around the world, especially when things are uncertain. The REACH team have put together some top tips to help guide you in taking care of yourself during this time.
1.It’s OK to be worried
Being worried about the changes that are happening at the moment is totally normal. However, there are lots of things we can do to help to manage the worry we might be feeling. That might be sticking to a routine, planning your daily activities, setting small goals and making sure you make time to relax and do the things you enjoy at home (Netflix!)
2.Keep in touch with friends and family
Many young people have left school unexpectedly and keeping ourselves physically distant from people we care about can be difficult. However, technology can help to keep us all connected. Whether it’s picking up the phone, making a videocall to your bestie or talking to friends online - make sure you check in so that you and your loved ones don’t feel alone when you can’t be together.
3.Don’t believe everything you see online
One of the downsides of living in an increasingly connected world is that we can see the news 24/7! Whilst this can be helpful and keep us up to date with what’s happening, it can also make us feel a little bit anxious, so try not to look at the news too often. If you want to learn more about what’s happening, make sure that you use reliable sources, for example the BBC.
If you’re not able to get outside in the fresh air as much as you’d like to, get creative with how you can keep moving at home. Watch some YouTube videos, learn a new dance on TIkTok or make a circuit in your bedroom! There are lots of ways to keep active indoors and have fun too.
We’re all having to adjust to a lot of changes at the moment, but it’s really important to make sure you keep having fun. Play online games with friends, watch your favourite comedy or get creative with a fun new hobby.
6.Ask for help
If you’re worried about anything, remember that asking for help is a good thing! Talk to a parent, friend, teacher or any other person that you trust. If you would like to talk to someone but don’t know where to turn, there are lots of helpful and confidential services for young people out there (we’ll link these below). And if that’s not for you, think about expressing your feelings in more creative ways, for example, writing a diary, a poem or private blog. Talking about how we feel is a really important part of managing our wellbeing, especially when adjusting to big changes.
Celebrating Black History Month
with a talk by Akala
In celebration of Black History Month, the Reach team attended a talk by Akala, in which he discussed his Sunday Times bestselling debut book, ‘Natives’.
With some of us having grown up listening to Akala’s music, we were jumping at the chance to get up close to the MOBO and BAFTA award winning artist, but this event opened our eyes to the more mature work of “the black Shakespeare” and the incredible accolades he has gone on to achieve.
Akala gave a whistle-stop tour of the themes discussed in his book, starting with growing up in London as a working-class, mixed-raced boy during the 80’s and 90’s. He described himself as a bookish teen who found himself being marginalised by circumstance and having to challenge the prejudiced views of teachers at school.
Moving on to highlight the evident structural racism that persists today, Akala spoke of the history of British colonialism and the British Empire. The passion he has for this topic was palpable as he addressed the room. It was moving to listen to Akala’s personal account of when he was first confronted with the idea of race. He recounted this moment of realisation as a young boy of 5 when he had just experienced a particularly nasty racially motivated insult from a white boy at school. As he came home and began explaining the incident to his mother, he was struck with the realisation that she was white and found this a difficult truth to be faced with, having just been on the receiving end of racial abuse from someone who is white.
Akala used his characteristic one-two punch of both sharing a well-researched evidence base interwoven with his own lived experience. Something that really struck a chord was hearing Akala describe incidents of witnessing friends involved in serious youth violence, to the point where this type of violence was so normalised within his peer group even by the time he reached his early teens. He spoke of the complete lack of ‘professional’ support that he and his peers received following these traumatic experiences. However, he spoke fondly of the community support he had received from his pan-African Saturday school and stressed the important role that these community groups can play in providing a safe space for young people. This hit home for us as we are painfully aware of the limited resources that are available to so many young people in their local communities and schools, despite the trauma and difficulties that many young people face growing up in inner cities today.
Akala’s talk, followed by a tantalising Q&A, left us hungry for more. The topics Akala discussed resonate so well with the ethos behind REACH research, and as such it was a huge privilege and great opportunity for us to be able to attend this talk. The relationships between ethnicity, racism and young people’s mental health are central to the REACH project. A lot of the adverse experiences that Akala discusses in his book are only too familiar to many young people growing up in London today. Together with our school partners and thousands of young-people who are taking part in REACH, we hope to contribute to change and to support a long-fought movement towards a more equal society.