A MENTAL health charity in Basingstoke has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted negatively on the town’s teenagers - but the effects may surprise you.

YPI Counselling expected their clients to struggle with the uncertainties brought about by lockdown, but has actually found that, for many young people, it is reemerging into the world post-lockdown which has been the biggest struggle, leading to a “definite increase” in those seeking support.

The registered charity, based at The Orchard, White Hart Lane, has been running for 20 years and provides Mental Health and emotional support to young people aged 11 to 25 years old and parents of all ages in Basingstoke and Deane, through a range of interventions including 1-to-1 counselling sessions, group work and psycho-educational activities.

Jade Smith is the organisation’s youth mentoring team leader and explained to the Gazette about the alternative approach the charity takes to other mental health support available, such as the NHS’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

“We realised there was a gap in mental health support. It was either school, agencies, or medical, and nothing in between. Young people were seeing their GP, who didn’t necessarily know where to sign-post them to.

“We fill that gap. Each year, we look at what the needs are in the local area.”

Back in March, when the YPI counsellors were forced to work from home, they worried that their young clients would struggle to be pulled out of their normal routines.

“We thought, this was difficult, and we were quite surprised that many young people were saying that they did not need the support at that time.

“In lockdown, a lot of those children who had anxieties, it was all contained in the outside world.

“It was when we started to come out of lockdown that previous anxieties or mental concerns now had to be managed alongside wondering what the world is going to look like.”

Jade said that little things such as going to shops or school, or meeting with friends, while abiding by ever-changing rules, could make the young people affected more anxious about re-emerging from the comfort of their homes.

“It is different for everybody but, for a lot of young people, when they start to work on their mental health it is about what they can control and, at the moment, what they can’t is bigger than what they can,” she said.

Although the staff at YPI are trainee or qualified counsellors, the benefit of the mentoring approach is that the young people often feel they can relate to them more.

“We do it slightly differently. We find it really helps to be able to connect to them on a human level. We are not there to fix anything, we are just supporting them.

“Especially in young people in Year 6 and above, they don’t want to stand out. It is that sense of embarrassment that means so many young people do not ask for the help that they need.”

“We have been working with clients to try to recognise the day-to-day parts of their routine, we are identifying the aspects they can control.”

Jade advises young people who may be struggling right now to think ahead in very small, attainable steps.

“Focus everything on small steps, not large goals. You can achieve realistic steps, and look at things in different ways,” she said.

For parents, schools and others forming a child’s support network, Jade says that the top three things you can do is:

  1. Educate yourself.
  2. Ask for help.
  3. Have honest conversations

Looking forward, Jade’s main concern is that, while waiting lists for all mental health services get longer, funding dwindles.

“What I worry about, and what I know is going to be difficult, is the lack of funding in our schools,” she said.

“Our waiting lists are through the roof and if we do get back to a sense of some normality, what will happen then?

“We always say, mental health is as important as physical health. Sometimes, if you do not have that [attitude] at home or school, it is more difficult.”

But the charity hopes that, by continuing to support Basingstoke’s young people, they will help alleviate the pandemic’s negative impact.

“We are not superheroes, but we can work through it,” said Jade.

“This is a wave we are going to ride out, and we are all in this together.”