The concerns and needs of young people in an emergency

The Estonian Youth Mental Health Movement led the 6th-13th April 2020 to conduct a survey to map the concerns and needs of young people in the emergency situation caused by the coronavirus COVID19.

The results of the survey conducted by the Estonian Youth Mental Health Movement provide an insight how young people in a new situation see their livelihoods, concerns and needs in the field of mental health. Young people who are experiencing or have previously experienced mental health problems or have recently noticed a worsening condition were invited to respond to the questionnaire. 238 responses were collected during the week. 

In summary, we highlight the findings of the questionnaire major concerns, young people supporting practices and needs, which would enable them to cope better with the situation in the eyes of young people. 

Problems, concerns and sources of stress

  1. Half of the respondents perceive themselves deterioration in mental health related to an emergency situation. Relapses have been noticed by young people who have experienced depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders, and young people have also noticed a worsening of suicidal thoughts. 
  2. The focus of mental hardship is on many young people being left alone with one's thoughts. Opportunities to communicate with friends or actively engage in sports or hobbies that have helped to cope with one's worries in the past have decreased.
  3. Accompanying distance learning increased screen time and significantly in an emergency reduced opportunities for hobbies is an important factor in the deterioration of mental and physical health in the eyes of young people. 
  4. The topics related to family and loved ones are multifaceted: 
    1. For some young people, the source of stress is the multiplied time spent in close contact with family members and the limited opportunities to be alone. This will lead to many feelings of being trapped at home, more conflict, and limited opportunities for support (from mental health professionals, friends) via video or phone calls. 
    2. many young people are left alone and feel that they have no one to share their concerns with. It is desirable to have someone to communicate with; there are certainly young people at risk who live completely alone and who are afraid to deal with serious concerns.
  5. As a major source of stress for students, there has been a sharp shift to distance learning increase in study load and the fragmentation of tasks and instructions in e-learning across platforms, making it difficult to have a comprehensive overview of responsibilities and time planning. Alongside this is a significant source of difficulty lack of a suitable learning environment or the impact of home conditions on learning.

Presumably, due to the age specificity of the sample (65% respondents aged 15-18), the responses did not reveal significant problems related to the (home) reconciliation of work and school responsibilities, as highlighted, for example, by a number of ENVTL university members in discussions. 

Supportive practices

We researched the young people from whom they have received the most support during this period. Let's get out of that important opportunities to provide support and hope to young people or which can be implemented by young people to support themselves. We have divided them into groups according to the sources of support. 

  1. Mental health professionals (especially psychologists and school psychologists) have been an important support for young people through online channels, providing counseling through video or e-mail. 
  2. Teachers and the school family can provide very important support to young people in maintaining or restoring motivation. Allowing, for example, 10 minutes of free interaction with classmates at the end of a web-based lesson reduces the feeling of isolation. Teacher feedback, encouragement, small compliments or heartfelt messages in the e-School help young people to remain positive. Interested in the well-being of young people (eg video consultations, short extracurricular conversations, the aforementioned free interaction at the end of the lesson), many teachers have been able to send a very important message to students - they are taken care of.
  3. Parents is a support and help to many young people, being understanding and caring. For young people who do not live with their parents, regular telephone, video and / or text messaging is helpful.
  4. Friends is one of the most important sources of support for young people. Web-based collaboration (video calling - including learning together; watching movies, playing video games) helps alleviate the lack of direct contact. In the current emergency, young people are greatly helped to know that they have friends who support them, listen to them and want them to do well. The support and understanding provided by the partner or partner is equally valued.
  5. In self-support has been helpful in finding new (hobby) activities, regularly walking or running in the fresh air, exercising at home, listening to music, etc. Many young people are starting to read more; many have also discovered writing for themselves, which provides an opportunity to deal with their feelings and thus support their mental health.

The needs of young people

We believe that every young person is an expert in their own coping. That is why we are compiling here an overview of the needs that would help to support and increase the well-being of young people in this special situation.  

  1. Mental health support from professionals. Remote receptions by (school) psychologists should certainly continue; there was also a need to see a psychiatrist remotely and receive hospital or drug treatment. Many young people do not have the privacy they need at home to receive video or telephone help; the ability to make such calls outside the home is needed. It would provide an opportunity to increase the availability of assistance chatDevelopment of an i-based or synchronous messaging-based web counseling service. Unfortunately, for some young people, online channels are not suitable, so it is important to restore, at least to a limited extent, outpatient specialist appointments as soon as possible. 
  2. Social contact. Understandably, young people long to be with loved ones and friends. This need is facilitated, for example, by the time allowed for distance learning with classmates at the end of lessons or in a class teacher class; more sociable learning. You need to communicate with friends or, in their absence, the opportunity to belong to a supportive online community. 
  3. Support from parents; support resources for parents; help resolve tensions with parents or other loved ones. It is clear that young people's lives are greatly influenced by their family background and the presence of supportive loved ones. Young people long for understanding more; in some cases, parents have not taken young people's concerns about their mental health seriously or have experienced mental violence. Mention was also made of situations where parents rely too heavily on their children and the latter want more (known) more support resources for the parents themselves. In the absence of loved ones, the need for supportive adults or peers is all the more acute.
  4. Development of the quality and organization of distance learning. There was a clear need for a better structured e-learning system. Young people want teachers to collect ongoing feedback on the workload of independent teaching and to adjust the workload.
  5. Time (and space) for yourself and rest. Young people miss the opportunity to be away from the computer; stay in a quiet, safe, private room. Although it is difficult to create this time and space for purely practical reasons due to the special situation, it is this longing that is at the heart of many young people. The opening of school holidays can provide an opportunity for rest, and we hope that innovative solutions will be created to use the currently idle spaces to provide a safe and private environment for young people in dire need. 

In conclusion, we point out the limitations that should be borne in mind when interpreting and applying this summary. It is a modest short sample survey based on young people's subjective opinion of their ability to cope in a given situation. It is clear that its results cannot be generalized to all young people; nor can it be distinguished on this basis whether the concerns described are objectively different from the 'normal' concerns faced by young people in the spring. However, we feel that in a crisis situation where crisis measures are being implemented, it is important to pay attention to the sources of stress and the needs that affect the well-being of young people, whether they existed before the crisis or not. In our view, in addition to the perspectives of specialists (and to support their work), young people's own knowledge of the sources of stress affecting their lives and the possibilities for their relief is equally important. It is by combining diverse perspectives that we can together, more comprehensively understand, support and speak to young people at this special time.

The summary was prepared by Helen Voogla and Merle Purre, with advice and strength, were assisted throughout by Birgit Malken and Hedvig Madisson. The summary was completed on April 16, 2020.

Questions and feedback concerning the survey are welcome to the e-mail address

You can find a more detailed summary of the questionnaire from here.

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