Ian McLaughlan says our youth can help inspire a collective kindness in these straitened times
As tolerance levels decrease in many households, in our supermarkets, on our daily walks and in observing news and social media posts, spare a thought towards the end of Mental Health Awareness Week of the impact lockdown is having on the health and wellbeing of thousands of young people around the country— the overwhelming majority of whom have been observing the isolation and social distancing rules like the rest of us.
Many young people are missing their friends from the youth group, from school, or from the sports group so much that it will be no surprise to know that one of the biggest issues that young people are concerned about during the coronavirus outbreak is loneliness and their own mental wellbeing. (Some 39% stated this in a recent youth work report by YouthLink Scotland, Young Scot & the Scottish Youth Parliament #LockdownLowdown)
Mental health issues have steadily been on the increase among young people for several years. As my colleague at Youth Scotland, Mark McGeachie, reported in a recent blog, quoting from a recent study by the Samaritans. They found that, while a complex matter, there is—on a population level—an association between suicide and loneliness.
Youth work is currently preparing for the eventual easing of restrictions – albeit in a phased way that will no doubt take months—and will play an important part in the healing process and in helping young people to re-engage positively with their friends, their youth workers (as trusted adults) and their wider communities. We all look forward to those days!
But what can the wider voluntary sector do in the meantime?
The Covod-19 crisis has brought out bucket-loads of goodwill and kindness seen not only in those youth centres who have repurposed into a variety of essential services in their local communities (like fresh food and grocery deliveries) but also in the generous way in which people up and down the country are helping strangers, families and communities in so many different ways. I have seen so many large and small acts of human kindness on my daily walks, in the news and in the wider sector. This does indeed help all our collective wellbeing at this most difficult of times.
One area I believe everyone has a responsibility for is in our engagement with social media and on the media. Is it just me, but are we observing a huge increase in so many acts of intolerance seen from commentators in the mainstream media; in so much negativity on social media; and in going about our daily essential business?
Are we seeing a huge increase of intolerance from commentators in the mainstream media?
Why, I ask, do so many people in society more generally feel it necessary to be so quick to become keyboard warriors to express their preferred ideological opinion (and ridicule and dismiss all others); or ‘expertly’ criticise one politician or another; or impose their anger and disagreement on ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ on Facebook or Twitter alike.
These outpourings of negativity certainly impact on my mental health and wellbeing during what has been the biggest challenge to public health in the country’s recent history—perhaps you feel the same?
What example is all of this setting our next generation of youth workers, school teachers, community and charity leaders or political leaders?
My plea to the sector as we reach the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, is to take the higher moral ground of continuing to exercise tolerance, act fairly, work collaboratively and be more generous in our collective acts of human kindness with one and other—and for those around us who are experiencing significant loneliness and isolation at this time.
As the newly knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore said this week – smile more at people and you may find that they’ll smile back!
Ian McLaughlan is chief executive of Youth Scotland