It's no secret that young people today are more isolated than ever before. Between social media, screens, and the general sense of disconnection that comes with modern life, it's no wonder that loneliness is becoming more and more common among young people. But what many people don't realize is just how damaging loneliness can be to young people's mental health.

How loneliness impacts teenagers mental health

The effects of loneliness on mental health are wide-ranging and can be extremely serious. Studies have shown that loneliness can increase the risk of developing conditions like anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. Lonely individuals are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours like self-harm and substance abuse.

There are a number of reasons why young people are especially vulnerable to the effects of loneliness. For one, their brains are still developing, which means they're more likely to experience anxiety and depression as a result of isolation. Additionally, teenagers generally have less life experience and fewer coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions.

Preventing loneliness in young people

The good news is that there are things we can do to help mitigate the effects of loneliness on young people's mental health. First and foremost, it's important to create opportunities for social connection—whether that means organising group activities, starting a clubs or sports teams, or simply making an effort to connect with students on a personal level. It's also important to provide resources for mental health support, whether that means training staff members in spotting the signs of isolation or providing access to professional counseling services.

Loneliness is a growing problem among young people—but it's one we can do something about. By creating opportunities for connection and providing support for mental health, we can help mitigate the effects of isolation and ensure that all young people have the opportunity to thrive.

Mental Health Awareness Week is happening between 9th to the 15th May 2022. The official theme this year is ‘loneliness’ and encourages us all to explore ways to prevent loneliness in young people as a way of supporting wellbeing and mental health problems.

Preventing loneliness in teenagers at school

Loneliness can affect us all, but there are times in life when the risk of loneliness is higher, such as when we’re placed in a new situation. The transition from primary to secondary school can be a time when the risk of loneliness and isolation increases, especially for those young people who haven’t moved with their peers.

Break times can be particularly difficult times as the structure of a classroom and comfort from the teacher being there is gone. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself – standing in a large, unfamiliar playground with a sea of unknown faces, wanting the floor to swallow you up. 

Feeling lonely and isolated with no one to talk to, not feeling heard or listened to can have a significant negative impact on children and young people's levels of wellbeing and can lead to the development of longer-term mental health problems.

Example of how one school prevented loneliness and improved teenage wellbeing

Dame Alice Owen’s school, awarded the Sunday Times best state school of the decade, is harnessing the power of peer support to try and prevent such loneliness in their new year 7 pupils and to support them through the transition period. Dominique Jones, the member of staff leading this initiative, recently spoke to us about implementing the Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme to prevent loneliness and isolation in year 7s and increase feelings of belonging, all of which contribute to wellbeing and protect mental health.

We’re very much about looking at prevention, so wanted to focus on wellbeing and mental health, not just address things that have already cropped up. With the Wellbeing Ambassadors, we wanted to focus on the transfer process, and enable year 12 mentors to help year 7 settle into secondary school.

70 year 12 mentors were trained for September, now ready to go and help with the transition process. We trained so many because so many people showed interest and I didn't want to say no. I found it incredible, that expression of wanting to help, that number of young people who themselves had had two turbulent years due to COVID, that 70 of them stepped up and said, ‘I want to help year 7, please,’ as soon as they got back to school.

The Wellbeing Ambassadors have all run form times in year 7 and played games – year 7 love that, they want them in there every week. They have been into assemblies too. Friday morning form time is when they tend to do their walk and talk, so a Wellbeing Ambassador (we call them peer mentors in school) will go to registration, find their mentee and they'll go and have a chat. We’ve had some amazing feedback from the year 7 mentees:

“I love talking to someone who understands the school life” 
“I can relate to her, she has been where I am” 
My peer mentor helped me settle in this school”

The year 12s enjoyed supporting their younger peers:

“It's nice when you've built up some kind of familiarity and trust.”
“I have really enjoyed the time I have spent being a mentor both this year and last, and I think the programme is very beneficial. I hope [name of year 7 mentee] enjoyed this term also!”

 The year 12s absolutely loved the interactive nature of the resources and the different tasks. There were so many smiles and so many laughs. But then there were also these moments of stillness and calm and thought and bravery. Coming off the back of two years where they [the year 12s] had felt quite isolated, they were talking about how empowering it was, talking about things that usually they would not necessarily talk about in that sort of situation.

I am not alone, others have the same problems and deal with the same stuff’

Year 12 Ambassador

The training helped them to know that other people feel the same as them and have the same sort of stresses. We've named our whole Wellbeing Ambassadors programme I am not alone.

Thank you to Dominique for sharing her experience of the Wellbeing Ambassadors programme with us. Using the Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme in this way creates psychological safety for the year 7s at Dame Alice Owen’s School – they feel safe from the moment they join the school and feel part of the school community. One of the biggest indicators of positive wellbeing is that you feel you belong somewhere, and we’re so pleased to hear the programme being used in this way as an early intervention to support wellbeing.

A little more information about our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme...

Our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme is a targeted intervention that trains a group of teenagers who can then support peers in schools or settings feel that they belong and have someone to talk to. As part of this programme young people learn listening skills and communication strategies to develop positive peer relationships that are essential for young people to feel belonging and connection.

Our goal is to lead a sustainable systemic change to a more proactive, preventative approach to improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Access our training and implement our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme to support the young people you work with and prevent loneliness. 

Find out more about the impact of our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme by downloading our FREE impact report.

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