Youth loneliness has become increasingly prevalent in the media. We welcome the report from the Office for National Statistics on youth loneliness, which was produced as a result of the Jo Cox commission on loneliness. The report highlighted the following causes of incidences or escalations of loneliness:
- transitions linked to schooling and the move on from secondary education
- children and young people described embarrassment about admitting to loneliness, seeing it as a possible “failing”
- practical, social and emotional or mental barriers to participating fully in social life and activities
- the intersection of multiple issues and triggers to loneliness, or more extreme and enduring life events such as bereavement, disability, being bullied or mental health challenges
- The report also mentioned the following possible solutions identified by young people:
- making it more acceptable to discuss loneliness at school and in society;
- preparing young people better to understand and address loneliness in themselves and others
- creating opportunities for social connection
- encouraging positive uses of social media
Whilst the increasing use of social media is often associated with increasing youth loneliness, there is less evidence that young people see it this way. A recent report describes the causes of loneliness as being much the same things that have always caused them:
1. Academic anxiety;
2. Lack of community support;
3. Problems at home;
4. No one to talk to;
5. Loss of activities which helped them cope (eg sport/music);
6. Worries about future.
7. Pressures of social media
Numbers two and five on the list relate directly to the lack of community support and lack of activities. UK Youth, in its ‘State of the Membership Report’ 2018 highlighted a worrying trend in reduction of funding for youth services, noting a 34% decline in gross funding for youth services in three years, between 2014/15 and 2017/18. As a result we are seeing closures of youth services on an unprecedented scale and trends towards worsening mental health and what has been described as an epidemic of knife crime.
On the issue of decreasing funding for youth services, Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England and Wales stated that:
“Without drastic action to protect funding and making youth services a statutory service, we are condemning young people to become a lonely, lost generation with nowhere to turn.”
What are we planning to do about it?
Thanks to funding received from Co-op Foundation through Building Connections Fund Youth strand, YMCA North Tyneside has been investigating the issue of youth loneliness at a local level and what we can practically do to address it. We have engaged young people in a series of activities to help us identify the causes of isolation amongst young people in North Tyneside and create activity programmes to address their needs.
One of the things that became immediately apparent, was the need to continue to provide spaces where young people can explore and develop their creative interests. There was a particular interest within the group for music, visual arts, photography and film-making activities. We have therefore converted one of our spaces from a music studio into STEAM creative studios. The role of sports, activities and general youth provision was also recognised by young people. YMCA North Tyneside offers numerous centre based, outreach and detached youth services around North Tyneside. Some of these specifically target young people with poor mental health and feedback demonstrates the importance of these group sessions.
“Although a young person may be surrounded by their peers in a youth centre session or out on the street, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are feeling connected or understood. Youth workers are particularly skilled in recognising the signs of loneliness and are able to respond positively through active listening and building a trusting relationship. This in turn will help the young person to gain confidence and participate in a range of activities that suits them
Interestingly, neither the older young people we consulted, nor the younger group felt social media was a cause of loneliness, but each thought the other used social media more prolifically. Both groups felt that there was an opportunity for youth groups to use social media to promote activities to a wider audience and help increase awareness. As a result, we have engaged young people to help us to develop and refine our approaches to engaging young people via social media.
How are we going to make a difference?
YMCA North Tyneside is a charity. As such, our work relies on the continued support of funders, commissioners and donations. With continued funding we will continue to provide wide ranging open access youth programmes, detached and outreach approaches informed by the needs of young people. To support our youth programmes please click below to donate.