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Nine ways to promote positive youth mental health during lockdown

If you live with a young person struggling to navigate feelings of low mood or depression during the coronavirus pandemic, read these nine practical steps you can take to help written by psychologists at the University of Reading.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many of us are adjusting to major changes in the way we go about our daily lives.

For some young people, the disruption may be particularly challenging, as their usually active and social lives go quiet in lockdown.

Although we currently don’t know the full impact of the pandemic on mental health, we do know young people are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems.

Psychology experts at the University of Reading have created a practical online course, COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression, designed to support young people experiencing low mood or depression during this time.

The course draws on evidence-based clinical practice and psychological principles, and can be taken by young people themselves or the parents, teachers, and supporters of a young person who is struggling.

If you live with a young person who is having difficulty navigating the times we’re living in, there are practical steps you can take to help.

Below, clinical psychologist and clinical research fellow at the University of Reading, Monika Parkinson, and lecturer in clinical psychology, Faith Orchard, have outlined nine key takeaways from the course that may help young people cope in the current situation and beyond.

1. Structure your days

Daily routines are one of the main things that have been disrupted in the majority of households.

Now, working and leisure time looks very different for most of us. However, our bodies thrive on routine, so it’s helpful to maintain some new or existing habits.

For example, our brain creates associations, so if we work or study in our bedrooms, we’ll associate the bedroom with work. If you can, help the young person you live with to mark the change between study and leisure time. This can be achieved simply by making sure all study materials are packed away from the kitchen table at the end of the day or more strictly by making study spaces in your home completely separate from living or sleeping areas.

2. Manage sleeping habits

Sleep is another area that really benefits from routine.

Bedtimes and wake times may have changed in lockdown and that’s ok. However, try to implement some consistency when it comes to the time your child goes to bed so that their body can support sleep by releasing hormones at the right time. Make sure they dedicate time to winding down in the evening where they switch off from study and devices.

You should also try to keep bedrooms cool and dark for sleep and remember to fling open the curtains in the morning to let the sunlight in and reset the body’s hormones.

3. Set an example

Young people are constantly receiving information about the world around them and this can influence what they think and feel.

Try to be mindful about how you react and respond to different situations. During the pandemic, it will be particularly helpful to show that it’s normal to be worried or sad. Be sure to label the emotions that you experience.

It’s also great to encourage healthy habits by doing them yourself, such as eating good food, partaking in physical activity, and taking time out for self-care.

4. Up your communication

Family communication can be tricky at the best of times, and this will be more challenging if people are experiencing lots of different emotions.

Often families experience difficulties with miscommunication where what is said is misinterpreted. This is particularly common when young people are feeling low, as they may interpret what’s being said as more negative.

Try to be clear in your communications, and ask questions if you don’t understand a particular response. When problems are identified, it can be helpful to work together as a family to think about lots of different solutions – even the wild and wacky ones.

5. Try to notice the good moments

We are constantly being bombarded with negative information right now and a lot of our usual outlets for fun and enjoyment have changed or gone.

Making time for fun is so important for lifting our mood – especially silly fun, that makes you laugh out loud. 

Notice these silly moments when they arise, and try to create and encourage them where you can.

6. Learn how to release negative thoughts

Help young people in your care not to get caught up in negative thinking.

To do this, suggest that they try to see their thoughts as clouds in the sky, leaves on a stream, or cars driving by. These ideas help us
not to ‘fuse’ with our thoughts.

Encourage them to acknowledge their thoughts and then let them go. If any negative thoughts do stick around, suggest that they look for an alternative way of thinking. For example, what would they tell their friend if they were having the same negative thought?

7. Remember it’s okay to have ups and downs

The COVID-19 lockdown has caused major disruption, and young people and adults alike are having to rapidly adjust to different ways of living. 

Young people may be particularly worried about schoolwork or family members, and the stress and anxiety induced may leave them feeling low. These changes in mood and worries are to be expected. 

It’s important that the young person you live with knows not to feel guilty for experiencing a range of emotions during these difficult times.

8. Look after yourself

It can be very difficult for some parents or carers to imagine putting themselves first. But, to be able to take care of others, we need to be well ourselves.

Whilst routine is important and it’s great to plan activities to keep busy, remember that it’s also ok to take time for you. Not every minute needs to be filled.

Though it might seem hard to do, we cannot emphasise how important self-care is during this time. Self-care can involve anything that’s nurturing to you, from some quiet time of reflection to an online exercise class.

9. Notice coping mechanisms

This is an extremely intense time for all of us. You and any young people in your household could take the time to reflect on the things
that you’re learning about yourself during this time.

What helps you cope well? What triggers have you noticed make your mood dip? How do you ask for help? What, if anything, do you need to do differently? What is important to you and how will you hold onto this when things start going back to ‘normal’?

If you’d like to learn more about building positive family communication, managing low thoughts and feelings, and helping young people to build long-lasting resilience, join the University of Reading’s course for free today.

You can browse all of our courses created in response to coronavirus here.

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