How Young People Are Taking Care of Their Mental Health During COVID

29 October 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the importance of maintaining mental health. During her Internship with Think HQ, Laura Schmidt surveyed three of her friends to learn how young people have stayed well.

Like many young people, I’ve struggled with high levels of stress and anxiety during the pandemic. We have never lived with this level of uncertainty and tragedy happening around us, leaving many of us feeling out of whack and more lonely than ever.

Being away from home and losing my job while trying to finish a degree hasn’t been close to easy. But I’ve not only learned to embrace change and become more resilient, but to take one day at a time, which is one of the hardest things for us in this era of information overload and social comparison.

Recently, Think HQ worked with SANE Australia to develop Better Off With You; a suicide prevention campaign that uses peer-to-peer storytelling to speak directly to people who might be having suicidal thoughts to show them how people who have felt that way have been able to come out the other side. Learning about Better Off With You during my internship at Think HQ helped me to understand the importance of taking care of your mental health, no matter what you’re experiencing.

As humans, we constantly think that we are the only ones feeling a certain way, but I always get surprised how much I can relate to people’s feelings and experiences when I actually decide to open up about my mental health. Now more than ever, it is important to come together to challenge the stigma linked with mental health illness, a complex and universal issue that affects everyone in some way.

I sat down (virtually) with three of my friends to talk about their struggles and to share how they have been coping.

Sarah, 27

A photo of Sarah, a young woman smiling on the beach.

What does mental health mean to you?

For me it’s about finding strength, positivity, balance and calmness within myself without comparing myself to others. It’s really just as important as physical health.

How have you been coping mentally during the lockdown?

The first part of it I found very challenging and I was feeling very down and anxious. My partner and I lost our jobs, and not seeing my family or friends wasn’t helping. I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and I was getting caught up using too much technology. But in this second part of lockdown I changed my mindset completely. I reduced screen time, spent a lot of time outside and worked on little projects that helped me keep busy.

Tell me more about those little projects and things that helped you keep busy.

I’ve really gotten into gardening and it has helped me massively. I think that spending time where you see growth and life is extremely positive and nourishing. Together with exercising, eating well and connecting with friends and family as much as possible.

How do you think you managed to change your mindset?

When I was struggling a bit financially, it really hit home what I really needed  in life. I tried to focus on the simple things, my supportive networks and reminded myself that change isn’t always bad, new opportunities will arise eventually.

Do you think that we are talking more about mental health now during the pandemic?

While it is being discussed more, I’ve noticed that complex and in depth conversations have been reduced since we can’t talk about it face to face. When you are going through a mental hardship you can feel like you’re in a really dark place. The topic is still very taboo and it’s really hard to overcome your own struggles, on top of the stigma that comes with it.

What do you think the media gets wrong about mental health?

We don’t see enough mental health issues and prevention strategies in the media. It’s not portrayed as a common issue that affects the majority of the population, and when it is shown, most of the time it is extreme cases, which I believe contribute to making people feel like it’s taboo.

What would be your three 2020 mental health learnings?

  1. That balance is key - I’m much happier and calmer when  I’m aware of what I do, think, say, eat, feel.
  2. To focus on the simple things – we need so much less than we think we do.
  3. The importance of supportive networks – I know that I can go through anything if I have the people I care about around me.

 Bianca, 28

Bianca, a young woman, smiles and stands next to a creek.

What does mental health mean to you?

To me, mental health is to feel grounded and in the present moment, capable of dealing with whatever life throws at you, knowing that it’s okay to feel all the different emotions, positive or negative.

How have you been coping mentally during the lockdown?

It’s been very up and down. One hour I can feel super anxious and the next I feel great. Of course I am scared of the uncertainty of it all, but I’m trying to focus on the positives, like slowing down from a busy lifestyle, focusing on what I’m grateful for and embracing all my emotions as they are.

Do you think that the topic of mental health is being discussed differently and more often now?

In normal life it’s so easy to put on a facade, where everyone seems to be fine. The ‘beauty’ of all this uncertainty is that everyone has been more open with their emotions and knows that it's okay. That social pressure to be always fine has been challenged  as we live through this shared experience.

What do you think the media gets wrong about mental health?

Mental health is often pushed to the side by the media. The issue is covered more on a superficial basis, without going into the complexity of it because it can be scary to the public. I think that if we delve a bit deeper and talk about it more it will help to  normalise it.

What are some of the tools and strategies that you have implemented to improve your resilience and mental health during these unprecedented times?

Meditation and yoga have definitely helped me. Instead of wishing for the situation to be different, I’ve been trying to just accept it as it is. Yoga has taught me that discomfort is only temporary and it is not necessarily a bad thing, as this builds up resilience. And of course, calling family and friends. There are many things we can do to improve our mental wellbeing,  but you cannot deny that as humans, we need connection, even if it’s virtually.

How does meditation help with your anxious thoughts?

I usually meditate when my brain is just running non-stop and stressing about the future. Meditation helps me become aware of those thoughts and brings me back to the present moment.

What is a way that you have strengthened your supportive networks during the pandemic?

I've been doing morning live workouts over zoom with my friends and it’s crazy how much that has helped me mentally. Starting the day with some form of connection is really helpful.

What are three things that you have learned about your mental health in 2020?

  1. The importance of slowing down and prioritising fun time for myself without the pressure of doing something productive.
  1. That it’s okay to feel and express my emotions.
  2. To accept and not fight what's happening – to be happy with what I have now.

Ben, 23

Ben, a young man, stares into the camera, with a blurred city street in the background.

What does mental health mean to you?

To me, it means ensuring that I am in a comfortable mindset. That I’m happy, positive, enjoying my time, wanting to wake up every day and being motivated to achieve things.

How have you been coping mentally during the lockdown?

What I’m struggling with the most, is the lack of motivation to do things. I feel lethargic almost constantly, to a point where I don’t even feel like doing my hobbies. But I guess that’s mainly due to the lack of interactions with my friends and tutors.

Do you use a specific technique to calm down your worries or stresses?

I sit down and I ask myself what is troubling me and what the best course of action is. When you acknowledge your worries, it’s easier to be proactive in overcoming them.

Do you think there is still a lot of stigma around mental health?

There has definitely been a lot of progress in raising awareness. However, I feel like a lot of people still struggle to seek help, perhaps because they are scared to be judged.

What do you think the media gets wrong about mental health?

The media represents a distorted picture of mental health, they don’t represent the whole spectrum. They might focus on the worst cases and miss the mild-everyday symptoms.

What are your go-to activities that help you feel better when you are feeling down and unmotivated?

Getting outside every day to go for a walk has helped me massively - being in the sun and getting fresh air makes me feel so much better. And doing fun and creative catch-ups with my mates.

Tell me more about those creative catch-ups.

We do all sorts of fun things, from party games, like beer pong, to virtual festivals where we pretend to be DJs, create line ups and all sorts of things. I think that having fun and a laugh with friends is really the best mental therapy.

What are three things that you have learned not to underestimate?

1.    The importance of human interaction – I’ll never take it for granted again.

2.    The power of exercising – those endorphins really kick in when you need them.

3.    Taking screen breaks more often - using pen and paper brings me joy and it helps me sleep better too.

 

So what did I learn?

I got two key insights from my interviewees. One, that mild mental health symptoms are not represented enough in the media or talked about. And two, that young people really enjoy talking and reflecting about their mental health with someone else, especially during these times of crisis.

The more we talk about our mental health, the more we can normalize it. We need to keep breaking the stigma around it and give mental health the relevance and time that it deserves.

A photo of Laura's head.
Intern