15 August 2023
How do you work with UK Youth and what do you appreciate most about the organisation?
I have been actively involved with UK Youth in various capacities, starting as a young participant in early 2022 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Belong Collective Leadership group. Together with 12 other young individuals aged 16-24, we utilise our personal experiences with loneliness to co-create and lead loneliness events, including webinars during Loneliness Awareness weeks. We also get to influence policy directly for example, I spoke at an APPG on tackling Loneliness in May 2023.
For 21 years, I struggled to find an organisation that genuinely cared about my well-being, empowerment, and voice as someone who faced numerous barriers. UK Youth became the first organisation where I could access youth work, and it profoundly transformed my life, enabling me to overcome challenges. As a result of their unwavering support, I discovered my passion for advocating for the power of youth work and ensuring that every young person has access to it when they need it.
What does loneliness mean to you and why do you think so many young people across the UK are experiencing it?
Loneliness is an experience that has left an indelible mark on me. As I gradually work to overcome feelings of isolation, I recognise that it has altered my very chemistry and has left a wound. Loneliness, for me, is akin to having a voice but feeling unheard, as if I’m trying to scream, yet no one seems to listen. It’s like the walls are closing in, suffocating me in a sense of isolation.
Even my once-safe haven, my bedroom, became haunting as I found it difficult to bear my own company. Loneliness manifests itself in eating meals alone, going days without speaking to anyone, and being too anxious to express my true emotions to those around me. It’s a sudden shift from being outgoing and extroverted to grappling with anxiety and self-doubt.
I believe young people are experiencing loneliness for three reasons. Firstly, it has only been researched in young people very recently, resulting in a lack of awareness. We need more organisations doing more collaborative research, so we understand what loneliness is and is transferable across sectors.
Secondly, it is multifaceted, so we need to have multifaceted approaches and preventative measures before it becomes chronic loneliness and detrimental to young people’s health.
Thirdly, is the lack of clear signposting to specific services that address this issue. This problem is exacerbated by the existing stigma surrounding youth loneliness. Although there are signposting resources available, they tend to not cater to young people directly.
In your interview with BBC Politics Live, you mentioned that the helplines you contacted had such a long wait line and when you did get through, it was inadequate service. What do you think alternative provisions for support should be/ look like?
As someone who has experienced loneliness and now looks back at what I wish I had, I have plenty of ideas that I think should be implemented, and I want to work on these in the future.
One suggestion is the creation of peer support groups within schools and communities. These groups will provide young people with a safe space to share their feelings, experiences, and challenges. Trained mentors or counsellors can facilitate these groups, offering guidance and support to the youth, which can reduce feelings of isolation. Additionally, just integrating discussions about loneliness, social connection, and mental health into the school curriculum is a proactive approach to raise awareness and prevent loneliness.
Community engagement helps young people develop social connections beyond their immediate circles and fosters a sense of belonging. Online support platforms are also a great way to connect young people with shared interests and experiences.
How can supporters of UK Youth further help young people experiencing loneliness?
There are always ways to support young people who are feeling lonely. Together, we can make a difference. By supporting UK Youth, you enable young people to play an active role in addressing loneliness. Your support will contribute to a more connected and empathetic community that empowers young individuals to overcome loneliness and build meaningful connections.
At its core, a simple yet crucial step is to ask young people how they are feeling and the barriers they may have faced in dealing with loneliness. Reflecting on my own journey, I realised that no one had asked me those questions until I discovered the Belong Collective. However, not every young person has access to leadership roles like I did. That’s why it is essential to make loneliness an everyday conversation. By engaging in these meaningful conversations, we can foster a culture of empathy and support that empowers young people to overcome loneliness and thrive in their lives.
With greater awareness and compassion, we can foster a more understanding and supportive environment for those facing loneliness and mental health issues.