Reflecting on 2020: A message from our Chief Executive
Our Chief Executive, Emma Thomas, shares her reflections on 2020, how YoungMinds has adapted and what's next in 2021.
2020 has been a challenging year for so many of us. But for young people dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on existing mental health conditions, or those struggling with their mental health for the first time as a result of the pandemic, it has been especially difficult.
It was a year in which YoungMinds felt needed more than ever, and despite uncertainty over resources and projects, I am so proud of how the whole team stepped up and constantly looked at further ways to help young people and their families during this time. As a result, we supported 43% more parents than last year through our Parents Helpline; we influenced government policy through our Beyond Tomorrow campaign, which called on the Government to limit the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s mental health; and we created lots of new resources for young people, full of tips and advice for coping during the pandemic, which were viewed over half a million times.
The events of 2020 laid bare the extent of inequality in our society, including the gap in provision of mental health services for young people. Despite recent investment in services, only a third of young people were accessing support, and early intervention had already been affected by local authority cuts before Covid-19 even hit. We have seen the impact of this made plain by the number of parents reaching out to YoungMinds for help – many desperate to get support for their child – and the number of young people turning to us for support.
As an optimist, however, I do wonder if there is something positive we will take from the challenges of 2020. I wonder if all of our experiences of natural distress and anxiety in response to the pandemic, as well as the thousands of zoom calls that began with genuine and open concern for the wellbeing of colleagues and friends, have (to borrow a phrase from Simon Blake of MHFA) given us ‘a crash course in wellbeing and mental health’. I wonder if our perception of mental health will finally shift from it being something that we only notice when it goes wrong, to a recognition that it is something we all have – and that it is something we need to value and care for.
I wonder too if our experiences from 2020 will also have created a lasting recognition that we all play a part in being aware of – and caring for - the wellbeing and mental health of those around us. We have seen so many acts of kindness and support within our communities, which hopefully we will see continue.
But I think the events of 2020 have also given us an increased awareness of how especially challenging the circumstances that young people face are, and that so many of these factors and their impact won’t simply be resolved when we come through the other side of the pandemic.
As we move into 2021, although Covid-19 is unlikely to disappear, we will benefit from the vaccine and likely move to a way of life more in keeping with the freedoms we had before. I hope that with this comes a societal shift that sees us all start to take responsibility for those whose mental health is disproportionately affected by the social and economic inequalities that exist in our society. I hope that we see it as our shared responsibility to tackle the social factors directly increasing risk of mental ill-health, such as the number of young people living in poverty, the prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ young people and young people of colour, and the financial uncertainty caused by unemployment. And I hope that we move towards a more holistic approach to health, which values both our physical and mental health, and sees them accorded the same importance.
Yet the pragmatist in me also knows that, while I aspire to long-term change, people are struggling in the here and now. That’s why, as we move away from a Covid-19 response and begin to implement our adapted strategy to meet the needs of young people now, everyone at YoungMinds is committed to working tirelessly to find ever more impactful ways to make a difference in the lives of young people and those around them.
And we all know that our work is only possible thanks to the young people and other volunteers who work alongside us, as well as those who fund our work, whether it is from personal savings, virtual fundraising activities, in-store activities or grant programmes. We feel privileged to benefit from your commitment.
If anything positive can come of the challenges we have faced in 2020, I hope it is a greater awareness of the mental health needs that we all have, and a greater motivation to ensure that those young people who are struggling with their mental health get the help they need before they reach crisis point. However, I also know that there already exists a powerful movement that YoungMinds is part of, and we will be louder and stronger together, whatever 2021 holds.
Author: Emma Thomas, Chief Executive
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