We often think of social isolation as being something that mainly affects older people. However, recent YouGov research revealed that young people in Britain are much more likely to suffer from long-term loneliness than the elderly, even before we factor in the impact of changes to social interaction as a result of Covid-19.
The research carried out in 2019 found that 88% of young people aged 18 to 24 experienced loneliness to some degree, with a quarter suffering often. Younger people also said they found it hard to make friends, with almost half of adults aged 18 to 24 saying they experienced some difficultly in making new friends.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation had similar findings with around a quarter of 16-25 year olds saying they “often” lacked companionship and felt isolated from others.
Since Covid-19 started dominating the headlines at the beginning of the year, we’ve all had to make changes to the ways we interact with others and keep connected to friends, family and the wider community. For young people who were already feeling isolated and struggling to make friends, these changes will have had an even greater impact.
From the way mask wearing and social distancing affects communication and our human connection, to the loss of touch as a way to convey empathy, love and understanding (and even the awkwardness of who to include in your support bubble!) it’s easy to see why young people may be experiencing heightened anxiety and feel fearful of interacting with the wider community.
So how can we encourage young people to reach outward and make that leap?
We believe schools need to be providing young people with opportunities, now more than ever, to connect with, and support their local community. When young people engage with their community, through well-planned, safe and meaningful social action projects, there is a double-benefit, both to the community and the young people themselves.
It’s often said that ‘doing good feels good’. Research has shown that young people who engage in social action have higher levels of wellbeing, feel less anxious and feel more connected to their school or college. They also tend to have stronger personal networks. The Young Leaders Award is a fully resourced leadership and character education programme for KS1 to KS4/Post-16 where pupils develop the skills required to work in a team, make a positive difference and ‘be the change’ they want to see in their communities.
Social action projects like the Young Leaders Award build pupils’ confidence to interact with others in their school, and in the wider community, to work towards a common goal. By reaching out to those in the community who may also be feeling isolated and afraid, young people are able to build connections and combat their own feelings of loneliness.