Supporting Young People Through the 5th Wave
The current COVID-19 pandemic has been immensely disruptive to our young people; disruption to the school year and daily routines, separation from friends or family, postponement or cancellations of milestone events. Additionally, other stressors associated with the pandemic have been seen to negatively impact mental health wellbeing, such as uncertainty, alarming news feeds, and contradictory information. It is therefore important to help young people navigate these challenging times and foster resilience.
How to speak with your youth about the current situation
Start a conversation. Don’t shy away from talking about the challenges brought on by COVID19. Young people appreciate honest, open, non-judgemental conversations. What is unhelpful is to ignore or dismiss their concerns, this may drive them away from coming to you, and may lead them to seek answers and support on social media, which may not be as helpful and in some cases may be harmful.
Give them the space to explore how they are feeling and in turn how these feelings may be impacting the way they perceive the current situation as well as their behaviours, all in a non-judgemental environment.
“We are going through such difficult times, have you noticed any impacts on how you are feeling?”
“I have noticed that you have been down lately, is there anything you would like to talk about?”
“What is the hardest thing for you these days?”
Validate. Validate their feelings, showing them that you understand how difficult this has all been for them. Letting them know that “it’s ok to feel [sad/frustrated/angry] right now” can also help open a conversation about healthy ways to cope with these feelings. What is essential is to first listen to their concerns without jumping to solutions. Allow them to explore their feelings and letting them be heard first, before any exploration of solutions.
Provide reassurance. Discuss their specific concerns and provide reasurancess when possible. Exploring with them (it is important that this is something you do with them rather than telling them what to do) any strategies they can engage in to keep them safe and healthy. I.e. if they are concerned about getting infected, you can speak to them about helpful health supporting behaviours like washing hands, wearing a mask. This allows them to see that while some things are out of their control there are many things that are within their control.
Self-compassion. Reminding them to be gentle and kind to themselves. When we struggle we may have feelings of self-blame and self-criticism. Reminding them that these are challenging times and you are doing the best you can.
New routines. Encourage them and work with them to set a regular routine, replacing any cancelled/postponed activities with new engaging activities, and including health supporting behaviours such as:
- Regular bedtimes
- Connecting with friends and loved ones
- Engaging in a hobby or activity they are passionate about
Managing anxiety during COVID
The current pandemic has provoked anxiety in many people. While some anxiety can motivate us to protect ourselves and help keep us safe, if anxiety is not managed well it can impact day to day functioning.
Signs that a young person is struggling with anxiety:
- Preoccupation with their fears/worries
- Maladaptive coping behaviours (i.e. avoidance, substance reliance)
- Physical symptoms associated with their anxiety (which have been assessed by a GP but do not have physical origin) – i.e. headaches, muscle tension, pain, stomach discomfort
Supporting young people experiencing anxiety
Supporting young people who are experiencing anxiety will be through helping them to explore and recognise their anxious thoughts, validating their feelings and supporting them to engage in coping strategies. Supporting them to explore more measured ways to look at the situation. However, if they are having difficulties with this and their anxieties, seeking professional help will be helpful (more details on seeking professional support can be found at the end of this article)
- Help them to think of evidence to support their anxious thoughts and evidence that challenge their anxious thoughts. This will allow them to find a balance in their thinking and will help them challenge their anxieties
- Explore with them more optimistic ways of thinking about their situation – what is the upside
- Encourage them to practice mindfulness or grounding techniques which help bring us back to the present moment
Coping with isolation & low mood
The isolating nature of social distancing and school disruptions can lead to low mood and possibly depression, if helpful coping strategies are not used. Social contact and friendship development is an important developmental milestone in the adolescent years. Social connection disruption impacts both mood and healthy social development.
Signs that a young person is struggling:
- Low mood
- Further isolation, avoiding contact with friends
- Maladaptive coping behaviours (i.e. avoidance, substance use, self harm)
- Physical symptoms associated with their low mood (which have been assessed by a GP but do not have physical origin) – i.e. generalised pain, stomach discomfort
Supporting young people experiencing low mood
- Encourage them and support them to connect with friends and loved ones
- Allowing for more time on-line (within reason) on social platforms or gaming platforms that allow them to connect with their friends
- This is also a good time to speak to them about staying safe on-line
- Allowing for safe in-person meeting (within the limitations of social distancing guidelines)
- Help them set manageable expectations. Understanding that “good enough” and accomplished is better than perfect but not achievable, particularly during times of challenge
- Support them to explore hobbies or activities they can take up, to help them feel fulfilled and give them a sense of mastery and accomplishment
Seeking professional help
It is important to recognise when professional help is needed; such as speaking to a counsellor or psychologist to process experiences or engage in structured talk therapy. Many therapists are offering services virtually or have safety guidelines to help facilitate in-person therapy. To learn more about seeking mental health supports in Hong Kong follow the link here
How do I know a young person needs professional help?
- They are increasingly withdrawn, isolated or disengaged, and not responsive to coping strategies
- Engaging in self harm, substance reliance, or expressing suicidal thoughts
- Significant disruptions to their daily activities and engagement with the world around them due to their anxiety or mood
If you are concerned about safety or think your young person needs emergency supports please see the list of emergency services here
Taking care of yourself is essential during this time. You will not be able to effectively support others if you are struggling. The strategies above apply to your self-care as well, so ensure you are engaging in healthy coping strategies, this will also model healthy behaviours to the young person you are supporting.