Loneliness Awareness Week: What has loneliness got to do with young people?

Young people are often considered to be super social – to be out and about with friends more than other groups in society. But in fact, studies have shown that young people report being lonely more than any other group. This can only be increased by the current pandemic, as young people are isolated from schoolmates, family members and friends – with most contact happening through a screen. So what can be done to support young people, and how are young people themselves taking action on loneliness?

Co-op Foundation “Belong”

#iwill partner Co-op Foundation been tackling youth loneliness through Belong – since their research found young people feel lonely more than any other age group.

Since 2017, they’ve built a UK-wide network of partners connecting and empowering young people to beat loneliness. This includes the Co-op foundation #iwill Fund, which match funds youth social action projects with support from DCMS and the National Lottery Community Foundation. Social action projects supported by Belong include a co-designed creative campaign about loneliness, a musical programme supporting the transition to secondary school, and peer support on issues of bereavement.

Watch the video below which launched “Lonely Not Alone“, a campaign to raise awareness and reduce stigma of youth loneliness, supported by Co-op Foundation.

In 2019, nine young people, aged 11 to 22, created ‘Lonely Not Alone’ with Effervescent: a design agency committed to creating large scale positive change. Want to hear more about the story behind the campaign? Head to the Lonely Not Alone site for their “How we made this” film, narrated by #iwill Ambassador Claire. You can read more about Claire’s social action journey with Co-op here.

We Will – Cumbria

In December 2017, eight young people from West Cumbria had become so despairing about the lack of youth mental health services in their area and the impact it was having on family and friends that they called a public meeting and came together to form the We Will youth mental health campaign. We Will is a youth mental health group is based in the Ewanrigg ward of Maryport, Cumbria, which is in the 10% most deprived communities in the UK and one of the furthest constituencies from Westminster.

All of the founding members of WE WILL had been impacted directly or indirectly by mental health problems and the lack of support available to young people. They were determined to do something about it and were adamant that as young people they were best placed to make change. Their plan was to gather young people aged 14-18 and to support young people to lead change in how we deal with youth mental health in schools, communities, families and wider circles.

‘Young people have been waiting up to 18 months for specialist mental health support. It’s simply not good enough. No young person should have to suffer like this.

Their work has included meeting with the Mental Health Minister, talking to GP’s; friends; school staff; family members; health commissioners and health workers; community leaders and local decision makers. They organised a schools conference with a panel of Heads, teachers and governors and chaired the discussion. They presented to health and community groups, decision makers, funders, business leaders, senior health officials and attended countless meetings in an attempt to understand where they could make a difference.

Like many groups, We Will’s plans for 2020 have been affected by the current situation. Passionate for young people to be part of the solution, not the problem. In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness Week We Will launched their latest film ‘Just listen’ which reveals their top tip for improving youth mental health, and how young people can connect with each other to tackle the loneliness they face when experiencing mental health problems.

Project Hope

Project Hope is a youth-led project, supported by youth professionals to tackle loneliness in young people during the current global pandemic and beyond. #iwill Ambassadors Naomi, Amelia, Harry and Taryn are all taking an active role in running Project Hope.

They run three weekly sessions for young people aged 13-25, anywhere in the world. Topics so far have included virtual teak breaks, quizzes, game nights, language learning and wellbeing sessions. They’re also putting together a zine of creative work of any kind created by young people of any age during the current situation. You can follow Project Hope on Twitter or Instagram.

Loneliness and isolation is a big problem in young people anyway and in the current context it risks becoming an increasing problem with young people not seeing friends at school or being able to meet new people in the normal way. Creating this felt important to allow young people to come together, share worries and concerns, have fun and help those feelings of loneliness. Not only is it helpful for any young people attending but we have found that even as a team of young people running the project we feel much more connected and have made new friendships within the group!

Naomi, Project Hope co-founder and #iwill Ambassador.

#iwill Ambassadors on youth loneliness

Atlanta, 18

Why do young people feel so lonely?

I think because there’s such a stigma around young people and mental health as well as the huge stereotypes to go with it, it makes it harder for young people to talk about how they feel. For example, young people are deemed to be “attention seeking” or “melodramatic” when discussing their feelings on social media.

That is then enshrined by a society where we don’t have much of a voice to speak up, which makes us feel particularly lonely.

I guess we also feel lonely because we are quite busy with other commitments (school, extra curricular, home life etc) we try and put on a persona and be cheerful when it reality, we are really suffering.

Dani, 18

Getting through lockdown in the constant company of family members is tough. But for young carers like me, it’s even tougher.  Taking on responsibility for other people’s emotions and health, as well as our own is becoming unattainable. What is my tip for young carers feeling lonely?

Pets can be a real comfort if you have one, and you might want to sneak them away from the rest of the family for a cuddle if you can. Haven’t got a pet? Don’t worry if not, I haven’t got one either. It can even work to have a stuffed animal somewhere visible in your bedroom as a bit of a mascot and a source of comfort. I’m a huge alpaca fan and was thrilled to visit an alpaca farm last summer. Since I can’t really keep one in my back garden, I opted for a soft toy instead, and now he lives on my desk!

Read Dani’s recent blog on being a young carer in lockdown here.

Athika, 18

I think sometimes young people feel lonely when they aren’t able to confide in people or loved ones. Even though you know that people are there for you, you feel alone because you think no one really understands what you’re feeling. I think when they do feel lonely they don’t really speak out because of worries about being called “dramatic” or “childish”. Comments like this makes it hard to convey feelings to others.

I also think that sometimes when a young person is going through changes to their life they experience some loneliness due to feeling as though no-one is going through what they’re going through. 

I think free clubs or activities should be set up during school holidays so that young people who aren’t as able to socialise with friends after school can still see their friends. I also think that schools should have mandatory check ins with pupils just to see how their emotional wellbeing is  – particularly in times like these. I also think that as a society, we need mental health awareness to be more prevalent in our upbringing. Having conversations surrounding the topic will allow defeat the stigma that young people are afraid to challenge. 

In my life, social action helped me see that I’m not alone in the causes that I stand for. When you’re challenging an ideology it can be difficult when others do not support you, and you do feel lonely. Now I’ve found so many like minded individuals and they motivate me to do more social action. I’ve even made friends with people from all over the UK!

I think all young people feel loneliness and it would be wrong to invalidate anyone, but I also think young people who are from a ethnic minority, or who have disabilities or those from low income families may experience loneliness more frequently due to being socially excluded or marginalised. It can also mean not having the resources to keep in contact with people and socialise – whether that’s not having smart phones and laptops at times like this, or not having the bus fare or money for cinema tickets or fast food, during normal times. 

We can’t change society on our own, but what we can do is reach out to those in our lives. Those we are close to, but also those we don’t know as well. We can reach out to those we think might be struggling – but sometimes it is just as valuable to reach out to your “strong” friend. I have reached out during both the pandemic and in general. It’s always good to check up on people.

Evie, 21

When I was in school there wasn’t compulsory mental health education or wellbeing education, so no-one really knew. It was all a bit secretive and hush hush.

We had a ‘sad and bad room’ where the ‘naughty and sad kids’ hung out. Then everyone just labelled you as the ‘sad kids’ because you hung out in the sad room and that’s about as far as the conversation went.

I would be in a room with about 10 young people and I would feel so isolated. Then they would avoid talking to me because I wouldn’t answer, which made things worse.

Head to Evie’s interview with the Bristol Post for their full story.

Joe, 21

Joe Porter is a 23 year old #iwill Ambassador and District Councillor for Brown Edge & Endon where he is Cabinet Member for Climate Change.

Watch the video above to learn about Joe’s voluntary work which he has been continuing to do throughout the crisis, and about the positive and meaningful impact it is having on his communities.

‘I have helped establish a network called ‘Help and Hope’ to spread positivity and connect people through online friendship. The network works with the two local churches – Endon St Luke’s Church and Endon Methodist Church – to provide volunteers to do weekly shopping, collect pharmacy prescriptions and a chat over the phone to those who are feeling lonely. We also have a Facebook group called ‘Surviving COVID19 – Endon’, which has gained over 300 members in just a few weeks.

By pulling together, we have seen what most characterises that community spirit, which goes beyond our local areas to unite us all as one country, and which affirms my pride in our nation. Although the next few months remain uncertain, I hope that we continue to see remarkable examples of the heroic efforts to help us defeat this disease’.

To read more about how Joe is working to bring communities together during this time, head over to his blog