Most of us have likely experienced loneliness at some point in our lives. This is especially the case after the shared experience that many of us had of going through lockdown, unable to go to work and unable to see loved ones. Many people working in the education sphere, including myself, have seen the severe impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown had on young people, particularly in their academic and social development. While many educators are working hard to get young people back on track academically, it is also important to consider their mental health. With this in mind, this blog details some of our suggestions for supporting teenage loneliness.
Encourage students to build friendships
Although this might sound obvious, many young people do struggle to make and keep friendships, and this is not just limited to year 7s or other new starters. There are many ways we can encourage the development of friendships. For example, introducing students who may seem lonely to classmates who stand out as being particularly friendly and responsible can be a really good start. In fact, many of my longest-lasting friendships are with people who a teacher introduced me to when I was a student.
At Beyond, we have a number of resources that can help students with making and keeping friendships to combat teenage loneliness, including our Making Friends at Secondary School pack and an Introduction to Relationships Booklet aimed at year 7, as well as our Making and Keeping Friends Top Tips Poster.
Try to ensure that extracurricular activities cater to students with different interests
Many of us who self-identify as introverts likely did not join any (or many) extracurricular clubs when we were younger, because we did not feel represented. Although there are many students who will want to join sports clubs, and exercise is an excellent tool for managing our mental and physical health, it is essential to cater to all young people in an educational setting.
If you have a particular interest that you think you could turn into a club for young people, why not trial it at your school? This could be anything, including chess, singing, improv, a foreign language that isn’t already taught, computer programming, crafts or anything else you can think of that might help to counteract teenage loneliness.
Encourage students to try new activities
Sometimes, it can be scary for any of us to try activities that we haven’t tried before. Those of us who have worked with secondary school-aged students will be aware of how reluctant many of them might be to step out of their comfort zone. We developed our 24 Activities for Combating Loneliness Checklist to encourage students to try different activities by giving them a variety of suggestions. By ticking off the activities as they go, students can gain a sense of achievement, and can even get a competition going with their classmates to see who can do the most activities in a set amount of time. They are also able to summarise and write about any activities that they try in the Combating Loneliness Activity Journal. This journal will be something students can go back and look at if they are ever experiencing loneliness or poor mental health, so that they remember which activities they enjoyed and perhaps give those activities another go, in an effort to feel less lonely and improve their wellbeing.
Encourage students to be proactive in taking care of their mental health and wellbeing
It is a lesson that many of us did not learn until adulthood: take care of your mental wellbeing, even if you are not experiencing poor mental health at that point in time. Take physical health as an example; exercising regularly helps us to maintain our fitness levels so that on the days we’re not feeling as energised, we’re more likely to be able to overcome this. The same applies to mental health; if we take the measures to look after our mental health while it is still good, we will be better versed in how to reduce, or manage, poor mental health, and the prospect of doing so won’t feel as overwhelming. Loneliness and poor mental health often go hand in hand, and may become a vicious cycle: those experiencing loneliness may develop poor mental health, and in turn may have increased feelings of loneliness due to their poor mental health.
Taking care of our mental health might be easier said than done. However, we have a number of resources, which could support students who are experiencing poor mental health and those who just want to maintain their mental health. Our Overcoming Worries Worksheet is an excellent tool for anyone who might be experiencing worry or anxiousness, and our Tackling Negative Thoughts Worksheet allows students (or anyone) to reframe their thinking in a more positive way in order to facilitate good mental health.
Raise awareness of teenage loneliness
Loneliness Awareness Week 2022 will run from the 13th to the 17th June. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9th-15th May 2022) was also ‘Loneliness’.
Marmalade Trust, the UK’s leading loneliness charity for all ages, runs an annual event during Loneliness Awareness Week. Marmalade Trust was started in 2013, aiming to change the stigma around loneliness and build a more connected society. They have now helped thousands of people directly, and reached many more with their message. Their twofold approach involves:
- Identifying those most at risk of loneliness in society and helping them access support.
- Raising awareness about loneliness among all demographics with their national and international projects and campaigns.
- Staff and teachers can also help to raise awareness of and break down the stigma around loneliness by starting a conversation with students about Loneliness Awareness Week. This can be an opportunity to provide students with a safe and judgement-free space to discuss the topic, in order to demonstrate to them that feeling lonely at times is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. You could also explain the difference between being alone and feeling lonely, and why the two don’t always coincide.
You could use any of the resources previously linked at any time of year to stem the impact of teenage loneliness, as well as throughout or as part of Loneliness Awareness Week. Why not also put up some informative posters to help students who might be struggling? Our Combating Loneliness Poster has some excellent tips for young people who may not know how to deal with experiencing loneliness, and our Wellbeing Top Tips Poster provides some fantastic suggestions on how to improve mental health and wellbeing.
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