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A Million & Me: tackling the loneliness of Covid-19

Sarah Brennan is a member of the Advisory Group of A Million & Me, a £10 million funding programme from BBC Children in Need which aims to make a positive difference for children and young people who are struggling with their mental health. In a short piece Sarah explores the impact of Covid-19 on the issue of loneliness, and the importance of this crucial ongoing support.

It’s easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of issues and initiatives, opinions and facts which surround children’s mental health.

It’s also easy for the media and public in general to get sidetracked by the language of ‘should’: children should limit their daily screen time; young people should take more exercise; parents should listen to their children and spend positive time with them.

This was the case long before Covid-19 came along and the added pressures of online study and social distancing have only made things more challenging.

At its heart, Covid-19 has had a life changing impact on many children and young people. The necessity for social distancing has created a wave of loneliness. Children have been taken away from their peer groups and wider community or family for months at time. Immediate family can be supportive, but, as we sadly know, they can also be the instigator of stress and trauma.

Research shows that the health implications of loneliness are significant. One article in particular describes human interaction and relationships as ‘essential to life, growth and happiness’*. Our sense of ourselves; our self-confidence, self-esteem and social skills, are all gained and maintained through the affirmations and reflections received through our relationships.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is related to many health concerns. Depression, anxiety, social hostility, tension, fatigue, restlessness, boredom, headaches, backache, poorer general health…the list goes on.

It sounds simplistic, but for a national funding body concerned with children’s mental health, it is crucial for us to consider how Covid-19 affects children’s mental health and what our role could be in trying to help.

For the advisory group, our challenge is clear: can projects funded through A Million & Me help to rebuild the relationships that children need in order to navigate the impact of Covid-19?

After a lively debate on this topic our discussion landed quite clearly on one key point. For all the importance of building resilience and self-management skills, we must avoid the language of expecting children and young people to ‘fix themselves’.

Instead, we should focus on creating the right, supportive environments for children and young people to thrive.

If the issue we face is loneliness, then surely one of the central solutions must be the strength of the relationships supporting them.

That is where our work through A Million & Me can make the most life changing impact in this truly challenging time.

*Ref: Chapter 20 Handbook of social and clinical psychology. Warren H Jones, Margaret D Carver.

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