Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governments all around the world hastened to respond by enforcing measures such as social-distancing, quarantine and isolation. While necessary, these measures can have a significant effect on young people’s mental health. Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and grief are compounded by being away from schools, work, peers, adjusting to new ways of learning and working, as well as fear of losing jobs and family income.
For this reason, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, in partnership with the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, are hosting a series of webinars for young people, titled “#CopingWithCOVID”. Our aim is to provide young people with a platform for genuine connection amid uncertainty, encouraging them to field their questions to the experts from UNICEF and WHO, generate mental health awareness among young people, and strengthen demand for integrated mental health and psychosocial interventions.
If you missed any of the sessions, you can watch them below!
Q1: In the current situation, I find myself panicking a lot and I’m exhausted. How can I overcome this feeling?
Everyone experiences stress and copes with it differently. You may notice changes in your mood, such as increased irritability, feeling low or more anxious, you may experience difficulty sleeping, you may feel exhausted more often and more than usual, or it may feel harder to relax during respite periods.
It is natural to feel this way during difficult and uncertain times, and there are many things you can do that can help:
- Connect with people you trust. Contact your friends and family and, if you are comfortable, share your concerns and how you feel.
- If you are required to stay at home, try to maintain a healthy routine and lifestyle including a proper diet, sleep and exercise.
- Relaxation exercises (e.g. breathing, meditation, mindfulness) may help you reduce stress and anxiety and improve your sleep. Methodically tensing and relaxing certain muscle groups can help you voluntarily relax when anxiety is running high. There are many online resources, such as YouTube videos, or apps, that may help you with these.
- Keep in touch with family and friends through email, phone calls and making use of social media platforms.
- Don’t resort to tobacco, alcohol or other drugs to cope with your emotions.
- If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a health worker, social worker, similar professional, or another trusted person in your community. In many countries there are hotlines you can call to get support.
- Have a plan of where to go and seek help for physical and mental health and psychosocial needs, if required.
- Get the facts about your risk and how to take precautions. Use credible sources to get information, such as the WHO website or, a local or state public health agency.
- Decrease the time you and your family spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage and minimize the time you spend looking for information – for example, 1-2 times per day.
Q2: I’m very anxious and having difficulty focusing and getting anything done. How do I adjust to a new routine and keep my motivation?
We rely on concentration to get through work or school every day. When we’re unable to concentrate, we can’t think clearly or focus on a task, or complete work.
Making lists of the tasks you would like to complete each day could help, for example:
- First, consolidate similar tasks together in blocks so you can move quickly from one to the next.
- Second, do the things that take only short amounts of time or are easy to do immediately. This can help you get things off your ‘to do’ list, and can support one’s sense of accomplishment,
- Third, schedule blocks of time for important things that need thoughtful attention.
- Fourth, organize your workspace – as far as possible, try to create a separate workspace, and negotiate quiet working time with your family or housemates.
Q3: I feel like I’m constantly dealing with disappointment. So many things are getting cancelled, I can manage with the smaller everyday things but then there are big things like my graduation and losing my job. How do I cope with this?
We are living through challenging times right now and to cope better with disappointment, we need to differentiate between situations that fall within our control and those that are beyond it. Being able to recognize the difference will help us deal with our frustrations.
If you are struggling to navigate your negative emotions, reach out to loved ones and persons you trust and express in ways you are comfortable. If possible and available, reach out to a mental health and psychosocial provider.
Q4: What can I do to help support the mental health of my family and peers?
It is understandable that you know a friend or family member that needs mental health and It is not uncommon that you know someone in your life that needs some level of mental health and psychosocial support; you’re not alone! Whether it is a friend or a family member, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.
- First, let them know you are there for them, and available to talk and listen, but only if they feel comfortable talking about what they might be feeling, whether its worry, fear, anxiety or loneliness. Remember that everyone is different, will feel things in different ways, and will want to express those emotions and thoughts differently.
- Make sure you find a kind way to check in on them regularly and be mindful to learn how long they have been feeling this way and how it might be affecting their day to day activities. Pay attention to what they are telling you, and show you care in ways that are acceptable and appropriate to the person struggling.
- You might also find it helpful to learn about some self-care and self-help strategies that you can share with your loved one: regular physical exercise or relaxation exercises (e.g. breathing, meditation, mindfulness practice); these may help reduce feelings of anxiety and worry.
- Reassure them that it is natural to experience different, and sometimes negative, feelings in situations like this, and that you are there for them. Do not underestimate the support and impact you can have on the person’s ability to express themselves and work towards being well.
- Remember your own role, you can do a lot, but you cannot do everything. If your loved one is not getting better, getting worse, or struggling with day to day functioning, discuss some care options that might be available, including professional help. If you don’t know what the options are, you can offer to help them figure them out together. Many mental health professionals can provide services by phone and/or via secure videoconferencing.
- And finally, take time for yourself, even when taking care and worrying about others- we need to take stock of the impact on our own wellbeing, and take the advice we give to others.
Q5: Staying at home all day with my family members is challenging and I am super irritable all day. How do I keep my mood in check and avoid getting in fights with those I’m living with?
Even if you love each other very much, staying at home all day with your family can be challenging at times, whether you are still living with your parents, siblings or with your own partner or children. Some practical advice:
- Establish boundaries and an everyday routine that everyone agrees upon. Talk to all household members together, including children or siblings. If you cannot do this in person for health reasons, do it over video chat.
- It is important that everyone feels that they have been consulted, even younger children.
- Agree on some things that may create tension, for example preferred locations to work or do homework, and figure out a way to share or take turns.
- It will be difficult to avoid any disturbance, so agree with your family what is acceptable and what is not
- For e.g. Are you able to work with the TV on mute? What is the best time for someone to do their exercise routine or music practice?
- Try to find some time for yourself, but ensure you spend some quality time together, for example lunchtime, so people can check in with one another.
Living with young siblings or children at home?
- Crowded house? Stressed out? Kids at home driving you crazy? Feeling like you are going to scream? Give yourself a 1-minute pause. Breathe in and out five times. Then respond.
- Having kids around 24 x 7 during COVID-19 isn’t easy. You deserve praise. Remind yourself of what you did well today. Think about the good moments. You are a star!
- Routine up! A structured day helps kids feel secure and makes it easier to manage them. Try making a timetable, with schoolwork, games, free time, exercise, and handwashing.
- Social media and alcohol won’t give you the relief you need. Find a person you are comfortable sharing your feelings with. Take a break. Do something that you love to do. Taking care of yourself so you can take care of kids around you. You can do it!
Q6: What are some activities I can do to connect with my friends during quarantine?
This will be different, depending on where you are in the world, and the setting you live in. In most settings, where internet is available, contacting friends is easier than ever thanks to technology. Platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Zoom etc. allow us not only to talk to our friends, we can also see them, interact, play and socialize in way that is meaningful and supportive. You could organize a virtual game or quiz nights or start online book clubs.
But let’s not forget that for some families this may not be possible. For example, families in low resource settings, or the families living side by side in overcrowded tents in densely populated refugee settlements, where not only is physical distancing unrealistic. It’s simply not an option. And similarly, some of these options that require internet access to maintain social connectedness might not be an option as well. So, think about ways that can work within your context. Build on what youth and family members might need to feel well, and connected, and try to adapt these in a way that feasible and safe.
Remember we are being asked to maintain physical distancing, while maintaining social relationships and connections. This is core to our wellbeing.
The next sessions will take place on the following dates:
Session #1 (English), Global Webinar April 1, 2020, 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “How you feel inside is also important”
Session #2 (English), Global Webinar April 15, 2020, 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “Self-care”
Session #3 (English), Special Session April 29, 2020, 8.00-9:00 am (New York Time), Instagram Livestream Focus: Experiential session on Mindfulness”
Session #4 (English), Regional Webinar – Asia-Pacific May 6, 2020, 7:00-8:00 am (New York Time) Focus: LGBTQI+ Youth
Session #5 (English), Global Webinar May 20, 2020, 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “How do you know that you need more than self-care?”
Session #6 (English), Global Webinar June 17, 2020 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “Young People as Caregivers”
Session #7 (English), Special Session with Scarlett Curtis June 24, 2020 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time)
Session #8 (English), Regional Webinar – MENA July 1, 2020 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “Mental Health in Humanitarian Emergency Situations”
Session #9 (English), Living the “New Normal” July 15, 2020 9.00-10.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “Living a new-normal”
Session #10 (English), Conversation with Young Indigenous People July 23, 2020 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time)
Session #11 (English), Global Webinar July 29, 2020 8.00-9.00 am (New York Time) Focus: “Young People with Disabilities”
- French, Spanish, Arabic translation of some content will be available for all English webinars;
- All webinars will be (i) accessible to young people with disabilities, (ii) include a gender lens;
- Webinars to include sub-population specific issues as feasible/ based on relevance to the regions – i.e. Conflict, Refugees, Migrants and Indigenous youth;
- Regional webinars definition: The term regional webinars is defined in this table as webinars which are led by regional teams of collaborators with support from global teams; the webinars will focus on issues relevant to the region, and be offered in time-zones and languages appropriate to the region; They will be open, however, for participation from around the world.
Regional webinars for Middle East, Europe and Central Asia – TBD
Read the presentation from the 1st Session HERE.
Read how to recognise if you need more than selfcare HERE.
Mental Health resources from MHIN – https://www.mhinnovation.net/resources/mental-health-resources-coping-during-covid-19-outbreak
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic – https://globalhealth.harvard.edu/mentalhealth-resources-covid19?
Domestic Violence during the COVID-19 pandemic
WHO Health Alert – Whatsapp +41 79 893 1892