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“Be yourself, everybody else is taken”: a young person’s experience of anxiety in lockdown (Northern Ireland)

Teenage years can be the toughest to navigate and that’s without dealing with frustrating medical conditions, the pressures of social media and a pandemic. With the help of a BBC Children in Need funded project, and her own confidence, 14-year-old Sarah (not real name) was determined to take control of her own mental health and wellbeing.

Sarah has multiple conditions that can affect her eyes and takes medication for allergies and unexplained seizures. Having these underlying medical conditions meant that she had to have time off school to shield during the first lockdown. A year ago she was feeling stressed, anxious and isolated. She had low self-esteem and her mental health was also in a bad way. But then, a friend introduced her to the Young Women’s Inclusiveness Project, run by St Theresa’s Youth Centre, in Northern Ireland.

As the weeks progressed project workers noticed Sarah becoming more open and relaxed. She was doing well with her school work and spending less time following negative content on social media. She started to build more family time into her routine, be kind to herself and to let go of the dark aspects she felt where holding her back in life. With the right support, she began to make positive and sustainable changes. She’s now developing into a person who feels empowered to achieve anything she sets her mind to, regardless of the barriers she may face as a result of the pandemic.

In her own words, Sarah talks about the shock of the coronavirus pandemic and the positive mental health and wellbeing changes she’s seen in herself thanks to St Theresa’s.

I’m supported by St Teresa’s who receive some funding from BBC Children in Need. The funding helped me engage with staff through online zoom meetings, one to one ‘walk n talk’ support sessions and also developmental programme work. I also was involved in outdoor initiatives and was provided with school resources such as an iPad, USB stick and printables.

I’ve gained certificates in First Aid, the Leave No Trace Award (helping to look after the countryside). I have also volunteered within the youth centre and enjoyed building my confidence and leadership skills.

The staff have really pushed me to set realistic goals and achieve everything I set my mind to.  Throughout the coronavirus pandemic the young women’s worker was amazing reaching out to me and seeing if I need help or how I was getting on.

l was not expecting the pandemic, and feel it was a shock for everyone although we all stayed engaged and staff moved our learning online. I feel the funding kept me engaged and I’m looking forward to starting the Skilled for Success programme again in a face-to-face environment.

The programme trips brought me so much joy and I learned a lot of new skills such as bush craft, lighting fires and making ‘Smores’ (a sweet treat!) around the campfire. The relief and sense of accomplishment I felt getting back from walking the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Donard was amazing. There was so much beautiful scenery that you could not imagine, it was breath-taking.  I would do that walk again and again, it was so good reflecting back on all the fun times. 

I am very proud of the reductions I made on social media platforms. I found in doing this I decreased feelings of stress anxiety and worry. I was aware that social media created a fake reality for me, and I found myself to be isolated from peers and family members because of it. Stepping back helped me develop a growth mindset and improve my mental health.

I have made so much progress this year to include overcoming barriers and health related issues such as my physical and mental health and wellbeing. I had feelings of intense emotions and severe depression. As I developed a support network, I was able to establish what I needed to help me in increasing my physical and mental health and wellbeing, resulting in me developing a positive mindset. I feel this was a big achievement for me in wanting to strive for something better. Taking myself away from the negative environments and behaviours that I feel led to me spiralling down a dark road.

I am proud that I am knowledgeable on the coping mechanisms needed to assist me when I am feeling or having negative thoughts or in an unhappy frame of mind. I am extremely proud of myself for setting realistic goals to achieve and assist me in breaking down barriers of fear. I feel doing this I have become a better person and feel a lot happier with myself.

When I’ve feel down, the walk n talk sessions have really helped, they have boosted my confidence a lot and assisted me in breaking down barriers that have risen this last year.  I also care for my granny as she is vulnerable and cannot leave the house so I will go to the shops and pick-up bread and milk for her and anything that she may need. I have been doing things that make me feel good such as having a self-care routine, long walks, group work programmes etc. This I feel benefits me in developing a positive attitude and behaviours. I have been consistent in keeping a positive mindset and being empathetic towards others, as I feel people have helped me whenever I needed it.

I like to engage in self-care activities which makes me feel relaxed, at ease and comfortable, resulting in having a good attitude and positive thought process. I am feeling a sense of empowerment and l also feel a lot happier in the young woman I am becoming.

Despite the pandemic I had so many good memories last year I cannot choose what my favourite are. I’ve enjoyed being able to socialise with my friends in small groups outdoors. I loved going on walks with the staff from the youth centre and getting to spend extra time with family at home. 

Right now, I am looking forward to starting a new school and having an opportunity to make new friends, I hope in doing this that I increase self-worth and become independent in my studies. I am excited to set goals for myself and put the realistic steps in place to achieve them.

This year I hope to increase my physical fitness levels and stay active in the hopes of developing a healthy lifestyle. I have been going for walk and talk sessions during the week which is assisting me in being active and increasing my health and wellbeing. I feel I would like to reduce my time spent on social media and increase my time spent on physical activity or joining sports clubs.

I am looking forward to challenging myself and pushing boundaries. Hoping to feel comfortable again in large groups and not feel insecure when engaging with my friends. I am hoping that in time I will be given more responsibility to socialise and interact with friends again, to have family members not be as overprotective and trust that I will be ok and not have to worry about my safety or wellbeing.

I am hoping for the coronavirus pandemic to be over with no restrictions, being able to get out more with friends and go shopping! I also hope to have a great Summer, spending it with family and new friends made over this year.

I would like to share some words of encouragement to other young people, as they have always helped me when I needed them.

Stay strong, stay positive.

Be the best you can be.

Be yourself, everyone else is taken!

At The Young Women’s Inclusiveness Project, your donations fund the part time salary of a project worker. The project deliver personal development and accredited training to young women living in an inner city area. Young women are encouraged to build up their self-esteem, develop positive relationships and strengthen their resilience in a safe environment.
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