The impact of ongoing restrictions and lockdowns in relation to COVID is becoming increasingly evident. Of particular concern is the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many young people across Australia. Some young people are navigating this time well, finding online learning to be a place where they can flourish and thrive, however many young people have found the world of online learning challenging and are currently struggling in a variety of ways.
Since 2020 we have seen an increase in the reported experience of psychological distress in young people, predominantly during lockdowns and heavier restrictions. Loneliness, changes in the ability to engage in self-care and coping strategies, significant disruption to daily routine, and disruption to education and community activities are the main contributors to this increase1,2,3. Poor mental health can impact our quality of life, engagement, feelings of worth, meaning, connection, motivation, hope and academic achievement4. The correlation between mental health and academic performance has been known for some time.
Young people are naturally resilient, and once lockdowns and restrictions ease, with the right supports young people will recover well with a reduction in levels of distress to some degree5. However, without additional support we have seen other impacts enduring. Schools are continuously reporting to us that they have seen at least 6-month delays in the social and emotional development of their students. Students are finding it harder to connect and navigate social relationships even as they return to the face-to-face school environment. With both young people who are struggling and those that are thriving, teachers and parents are reporting that they are concerned about the increased risk of young people disengaging from school and the transition back to face to face learning.
A holistic approach to addressing these issues may help to limit the long-term issues arising in the context of COVID.
Reach understands how much our educators are supporting their young people right now and we are committed to working with them to best meet the needs of young people.
There are key protective factors for mental health that can be built in young people right now such as building positive peer relationships and connection, increased understanding of self and others and ability to build hope and motivation. Opportunities for connection with peers and adults is a known protective factor for mental health and wellbeing and can be a key foundational driver in supporting resilience through the current climate. It is also anticipated that building connections amongst peers will bolster the work already done by schools in ensuring a smooth transition back to face to face learning and reengage young people who have struggled during online learning.
That’s why we have built on the great work we started in 2020 developing online workshops that create safe spaces for young people to connect, share and enhance their social and emotional wellbeing. The workshops are designed to best meet the specific needs of students in different age ranges, and aim to build connection through fun, meaningful and engaging activities. Whilst connection is at the core of these workshops, they continue to build other key protective factors for mental health – self-awareness, help seeking, empathy, hope and motivation.
To ensure our online workshops are safe and impactful, we have continued to implement robust processes and structures through:
- Careful content creation, including pilot and review processes for each workshop
- A clear and considered wellbeing framework to assess and mitigate risks, including but not limited to tech processes, pre and post communication, information sharing with schools, students and teachers, clear wellbeing requirements, and increased staffing ration and roles within the online space
- The ongoing evaluation and review of workshops with schools, students and Reach Crew.
This is the impact that our online workshops had on young people throughout 2020 and 2021, from the perspective of young participants and their teachers:
“I am a shy person by nature (until you get me talking, in that case, I don’t shut up) I’ve had it rough during iso and I don’t believe in talking about feelings much, however, with the workshop, I felt supported and non-judged and not like I was a burden. I really enjoyed being able to understand I’m not alone, it made me feel so connected”Yr 10 Student VIC
“As a whole school, our students have been highly anxious and distressed as a result of continuous lockdowns, lacking significantly in hope and motivation and feeling very isolated. The 90-minute workshops conducted by Reach for our year 7’s, 9’s following a lockdown saw a significant increase in connectedness within both the groups. Our year 12 virtual workshop conducted during remote learning saw a notable increase in hope and motivation that our students were in desperate need of. As a school, we need the invaluable support of services such as Reach to enhance wellbeing, and therefore improve educational outcomes for our students and to lessen to some extent both the short and long-term impacts of such distress and disruption.”Wellbeing Officer, Euroa
This impact doesn’t occur on its own. It’s the collaborative approach we take with schools and individuals that allow us to create these much-needed spaces. Please reach out to us if you would like to know more about collaborating with us, the work we do, or support we could offer. We believe it takes a community to enable young people to thrive.
- OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), 2021, Supporting young people’s mental health through the COVID-19 crisis, accessed 4th October 2021 <https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/supporting-young-people-s-mental-health-through-the-covid-19-crisis-84e143e5/> –
- Commision for Children and Young People, 2021, New findings reveal massive impact of COVID for children and young people in Victoria, 4th October 2021 <https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/news/new-findings-reveal-massive-impact-of-covid-for-children-and-young-people-in-victoria/>
- Mission Australia, 2021, Young people hardest hit by COVID voice major education, isolation and mental health concerns, accessed 4th October 2021 <https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/news-blog/media-and-updates/young-people-hardest-hit-by-covid-19-voice-major-education-isolation-and-mental-health-concerns>
- Goodsell B, Lawrence D, Ainley J, Sawyer M, Zubrick SR, Maratos J, 2017, Child and Adolescent Mental health and educational outcomes. An analysis of educational outcomes from Young Minds Matter: the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Perth: Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021, COVID-19 and the impact on young people, 4th October 2021 <https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/covid-19-and-young-people >