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Leading youth charity warns we are on precipice of ‘mental health crisis’ amongst young people

A leading youth charity has warned that young people’s inability to cope during the COVID-19 lockdown is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our children’s mental health.

Empire Fighting Chance, a boxing charity which works with underprivileged young people, continues to see worrying after-effects on families who are struggling to cope with their mental health and wellbeing amid the pandemic.

This week, the Prince’s Trust’s long-running annual survey of young people’s happiness and confidence also returned the worst findings in its 12-year history.

It shows that young people are in danger of giving up on their futures and themselves’, with a quarter saying they feel unable to cope with life, and comes as the UK prepares to mark Children’s Mental Health Week this week.

Half of the young people interviewed by YouGov for the Trust’s 2020 Youth Index said current political and economic events had affected their mental health. More than half said they always or often felt anxious, rising to 64% among those not in employment, education or training (NEET).

More than one in four said they had felt unable to cope with life since the start of the pandemic, increasing to 40% of NEET young people. Half of 16- to 25-year-olds said their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic, with 56 % saying they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel anxious, increasing to 64 per cent among those, not in work or school.

Added to this, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of young people aged 16 to 24 in employment between August and October last year dropped by 90,000, meaning youth employment fell to 3.51 million, the lowest level on record.

The founders of Empire Fighting Chance are calling for more support for young adults who are feeling hopeless, directionless and anxious due to the lockdown.

Co-Founder Martin Bisp says the charity is endeavouring to provide more support for its young members including fitness sessions, therapy and educational support in a bid to keep their spirits up during this crisis.

Leading youth charity warns we are on precipice of 'mental health crisis' amongst young people
Co-founders Martin Bisp and Jamie Sanigar

He said:

“This pandemic has clearly taken its toll on young people’s health and wellbeing. They feel isolated and cut-off from their peers and unable to go out and about socially, which would usually build confidence. We need to do everything we can to help them out of a situation which has left our children anxious and worried about their future prospects.

“This mental health crisis is very real for our kids and it’s something that has to be dealt with before we find ourselves with a generation of struggling young adults who have no idea what to do with their lives or the conviction to achieve what they want. We need to teach young people how to be resilient; to find determination and strength at a time when they might feel their circumstances are working against them.

“It’s imperative that we address these issues not just during Children’s Mental Health Week but all year round if we are to save a generation from essentially losing themselves.”

Empire Fighting Chance is committed to ensuring that young people and their families stay active and engaged, both physically and mentally, during the Coronavirus lockdown.

The team encourages:

  • Keeping fit
  • Keeping communication up
  • Learning the basics of boxing
  • Getting online career support

Martin said:

“One of our founding principles is healthy body, healthy mind. Exercise and the associated physiological effects can help with their mental wellbeing. We also believe that these changes in turn make you much more receptive to therapy. If a young person feels unhappy or angry, they’re constantly told they should be fixing it but with no real idea how which is why one of our founding principles is going with the flow.

“We’re there to say that feeling angry is perfectly normal, and in fact in some of your circumstances, we’d feel angry. Once you start normalising those feelings, you can see the weight lifted from their shoulders.

“We know that negative thoughts are normal, but they don’t last forever. Learning a new skill can really help and we have videos online that help teach the basics of boxing that young adults – and their families – can do together.

“We know how daunting it can be for kids to look towards the future and know what to do with your life or your career, particularly when your situation has been affected by school closures or job losses. Offering career advice online during the pandemic can help focus the mind and convince young adults that better things will come.”

Martin says reports like the Prince’s Trust survey show that lockdown is having a terrible effect on mental health and it is crucial that society supports these children in their time of need. Parents, too, have a huge role to play.

Martin concluded:

“Lockdown, it appears, has exacerbated the have and have-nots. It’s harder to access services unless you pay. Poverty and deprivation have increased and post-Furlough, I assume will increase again. It’s much easier for crime gangs to recruit youngsters and we want to make sure kids don’t have a life of knife or drug crime ahead of them because they feel it’s their only way to make a living.

“The pandemic has been difficult for everyone but it’s also really important for parents to open up the lines of communication with their children. Talking can often put things into perspective but also encourage them to sleep well, eat well and live well with regular fresh air and exercise. Families can help with basics like these but it’s up to society as a whole to provide more support for our youngest members before it’s too late.”

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