Covid-19 impact reinforces need to focus on young people’s mental health

Mental health terms (Jewish News)
Mental health terms (Jewish News)

JPR’s second report from their survey assessing Covid-19’s impact on UK Jewry addressed the hidden effects of Mental Health. JPR highlighted younger people (16-29) were “more severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak than older Jewish people, which aligns with … findings … among the national population.” 

Young Minds’ research concurs citing “dramatic changes in their education or employment, routine and home life … 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse … increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.” (Coronavirus: Impact on young people with mental health needs Survey 2: Summer 2020). 

A Lancet Psychiatry article reiterated different health impacts arising from the pandemic: “Although Covid-19 presents the greatest physical health risk to older people, the mental health of the young might be disproportionately affected by … the pandemic response of governments.” (Mental health before and during the Covid-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population).

Young people understand and openly articulate their mental health. Nerves,
frustration, and boredom are expected and normal reactions to very difficult circumstances. Mental Health is explored in JPR’s and wider reports as interconnected with social factors, such as health, employment, ability, and gender. Hopefully, this removes or reduces stigma for individuals expressing mental distress.  

Louise Kermode, Jami’s Head of Services, noted in Occupational Therapy News: “The distress we are all feeling is justified, tangible and unifying … it is a normal response … We are all facing the disabling impact of the current situation with work, food, money, isolation. It … has taken a global pandemic to reframe how we see distress, to stop us putting a label on it and seeing it as something a person must fix, or that we must fix in them.”

Communal organisations are cooperating more closely and offering expanded assistance for young people and their families. Camp Simcha has a dedicated mental health team supporting families of children who are longer-term school absentees or regularly in hospital. Jami expedited their online counselling service, including a dedicated service for students, and expanded support to carers of younger people. Noa Girls increased therapy and life skills sessions for current and new clients, introduced a daily webinar program and extended help to girls returning to their services due to the pandemic. Norwood with PaJeS delivered a return to school programme, and provided additional group, art and drama therapy. Reshet supported youth movements and organisations to keep members positively connected and facilitated training on Covid-19’s impact on educators and young people. The Schools Wellbeing Project made advice and activities available online for many more people than those reached by its pilot schools. 

The JLC’s Social Care Assistance fund allocated £889,500 to nine organisations providing support for young people, including hundreds of hours of additional therapy. In addition to many organisations mentioned, this included Chabad, Jewish Action for Mental Health, Kids’ Trust and Neshomo in Manchester, and The Zone in Leeds.

 We still need to understand more and increase support for young people.

As JPR continue analysis and surveys, it will be important to distinguish between feelings of nerves, boredom or frustration and sustained levels of anxiety, hopelessness, or isolation. Openness about experiencing distress may partly explain younger people’s higher rate of identified distress. There could be growing levels of anxiety and depression among younger respondents. Based on mental distress by employment status, those in full time education were second highest after those who are permanently sick or disabled and higher than those who were unemployed or in insecure employment. 

As statutory services are stretched the community can continue promoting wellbeing and providing belonging, purpose and routine, as well as support services that aid recovery for those experiencing a mental health problem. Charities delivering these vital services need more of the community’s time and money.

There is no hiding from the serious and widespread impact of the pandemic and social distancing measures on young people throughout the UK or within our community. We must keep listening to and learning from young people being open about their mental health. We must work even harder and with increased collaboration to enhance and expand support for them and their families.


About the Author
David Davidi-Brown is Chief Executive of the New Israel Fund UK, has previously worked for the JLC, UJS, UJIA, and Jewish Care, has volunteered with Limmud and KeshetUK, and is a Schusterman Fellow.
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