Looking after your mental health is a lifetime’s work, and the global pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown have created its own unique challenges.
As we adjust to a new normal of mandatory masks in public areas, a tentative return to the office and for pupils starting a new school term in the classroom after months spent at home, young people are especially in need of support.
It’s timely then, that 7 September marks Youth Mental Health Day in the UK, founded by mental health charity stem4, to encourage understanding and awareness of mental health in young people.
The first year of the annual event has the theme “Bounce Not Break” and is focused on coming back from failures, setbacks and hardships, helping young people build resilience, find strategies to cope with mental health issues, and explore how no matter how successful or popular a person is, they can still face their own struggles.
Ways you can get involved include downloading its school and work packs from its website and post about your own experiences bouncing back on social media using the hashtag #BounceNotBreak.
Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist and founder and CEO of stem4, told The Independent how the effect the lockdown has had on many young people: “In general it’s changed their sense of safety through the loss of structure and goals as well as the unpredictability.”
She explained that trends before Covid-19 were a rise in emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, particularly in young women between the ages of 17 and 19, suicide was a leading cause of death, especially among young men, and eating disorders were also shown to be on a gradual increase with more males presenting with body image issues.
“Post Covid-19, the prediction is that all these conditions will be worse either in those individuals who had pre-existing conditions as a result of increased stress and distress, lack of access to treatment and also as a direct consequence of the pandemic.”
Examples she cited included obsessive-compulsive disorder, a form of anxiety disorder has been directly affected, along with conditions that are often triggered by loss and grief such as depression or an eating disorder made worse and importantly post-traumatic stress as a result of multiple losses, increased domestic violence, family breakdown, enhanced poverty and isolation.
Ahead we’ve rounded up the expert-recommended ways to find support, charities and services available to young people and the products that can help manage mental health.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Give yourself time to adjust to new changes
As young people around the UK are experiencing huge changes to their usual routine and structure, Dr Krause advises acknowledging that it will take some time to adjust to returning to school and social situations.
“Feeling anxious and worried is normal. Take some time to self-care. This means doing some regular exercise, eating well and regularly, having breaks, relaxing, catching up with important people in your life.”
She also recommends communicating how you feel with someone you can trust, writing it down, painting, dance or any other medium that you feel comfortable expressing yourself through.
“Talking to someone isn’t always easy but it’s worth giving it a go. Most importantly, feel hopeful, there is always a way to make a positive change,” she says.
According to Dr Rose Aghdami, chartered psychologist and resilience specialist, the best way a young person can help themselves to manage their mental health is to spend time and effort in building their resilience.
“Resilience is one of the best qualities you can have, and it helps you to cope confidently and well with changes, challenges - whatever life brings,” she explained
Steps you can taker include checking any “what if” thoughts and questioning if they are rational, using your internal and external resources by which she means identifying your personal qualities and use them to help yourself and take help from others such as professionals to hlp lighten your load.
Additionally, she recommends doing more of what feels good and identify what you can and can’t control. “Don’t run on empty, make time to do what refuels you and remember that although you can't always change circumstances you can always choose your own response.”
Products that can help
One way of keeping tabs on your mental health according to Dr Krause is writing down how you feel, as it’s one way of expressing yourself and not bottling everything up.
In our guide to the best notebooks and journals, we loved this Leuchtturm1917 special edition muted colours softcover medium notebook (Leuchtturm1917, £14.95).
Our reviewers described it as light, sleek and flexible, making it perfect for a rucksack and carrying in between classes with no bother.
It’s available in four colours; powder, denim, sage and bellini, and comes with a gusset pocket to store papers, a blank contents page you can customise, numbered pages and we found it to be an ideal starting point for bullet journalers of all styles and levels.
If you’re working with a small budget, this Muji high-quality paper open-flat notebook (Muji, £3.50) also impressed us.
The thread binding, textured spine tape and paper feel high-quality and work well with most writing instrument, so if you favour fountain pens or a biro, neither will bleed through the pages.
According to our reviewers, the tape, along with the thick and durable cardboard cover, means you can chuck it in your bag and let it bounce around without fear of it falling apart after extended use.
In our guide to navigating post-lockdown anxiety, defined as the unease about returning to life after lockdown, Dr Aghdami recommends using the Calm app, which also topped out guide to the best mindfulness apps for daily meditation.
Our reviewer praised its exclusive music tracks engineered to help you focus, relax or sleep.
They particularly enjoyed such as "calm body" – a series of 10-minute guided videos on mindful movement – and "sleep stories", which are calming tales narrated by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey.
The app is free to download and offers a limited selection of programmes at no cost, but the premium subscription (£28.99 a year) offers the full library of services.
If a racing mind is affecting your sleep, and getting back into the early morning starts for a journey to school feels like a struggle, try a sleep tea.
One of our favourites is this Pukka organic peace tea (Holland and Barrett, £2.99). Infused with ethically sourced hemp (CBD), chamomile and spearmint to help mental and physical relaxation, calm feelings of anxiety and soothe digestive discomfort making it the ideal cuppa to create a bit of inner peace before bedtime.
It also uses ashwagandha – a root commonly used in Ayurveda to treat insomnia both for falling asleep and sleep quality, which when blended with other supercharged healing herbs adds up to deep, restorative sleep.
A sleep app can track the quality of your sleep, using sounds and meditation techniques to help you drift off and wake up gently.
The best one we found in our round-up of sleep apps was Portal – focus, sleep, escape. It’s free to download or an optional £3.99 to unlock its premium content.
From spring barley fields in Devon to Monteverde’s cloud forest in Costa Rica, it transports users around the world, helping them drift off to sleep with the assistance of some of nature’s most relaxing sounds.
There’s plenty of self-care books too that you can work your way through and go back to for guidance.
One we loved was Take a moment: Activities to refocus, recentre and relax wherever you are in partnership with Mind and Michael O’Mara (Waterstones, £9.99) written by sisters and wellness pioneers Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips with mental health charity, Mind.
Our reviewers commented: “They unpick the idea that self-care is about “retreating from the world” – instead, they write, it’s about “being switched on, fully present and engaged in your life,” describing it as a thoughtful street map to self-care that will also look beautiful on your shelf.
“The tone is didactic but unpatronising, friendly yet not over-familiar, and as well as written-through advice there are recipes, bright photography, yoga flows and bulleted sections such as the “Stay-well travel guide,” they said.
Another factor that can influencer your mental health is the weather in the form of SAD, seasonal affective disorder, which is defined by the NHS as is “a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.”
As we head into September, the temperatures have dropped and the nights draw in much quicker, so if you’re finding it’s affecting your mood, one way to combat it is with a SAD lamp.
As explained in our guide to the best, the bright light in the SAD lamp hits the retina and sends nerve signals to the brain, affecting the chemical and hormone levels. In turn, this improves the mood of the sufferer.
One we loved that’s more budget-friendly than most is this Beurer TL30 ultra-portable daylight (John Lewis & Partners, £59.99) which will look good on your bedside and is easy to set up.
It’s recommended to use for two hours per day and is neatly designed with a clip-on piece designed to hold it upright which slides into a pocket on the back when you’re done.
It can also clip in different places so you can angle it as you wish and our reviewers found it to be light and portable for use in different rooms.
Where to find support
One thing to take away when you’re struggling with your mental health is that you’re not alone and there are many resources you can look to for help.
Others include Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), for men aged between 15 and 35, who run a daily hotline from 5pm to midnight by calling 0800 58 58 58 or using its webchat that you can contact if you’re feeling suicidal or just want to talk to someone impartial.
Mind is one of the UK’s leading mental health charities that provides local mental health services hosts an online community and runs a phoneline you can contact between Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm by calling 0300 123 3393.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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