Covid-19 has had a huge knock-on effect both here in Ireland and around the world. While the physical effects of the virus can be severe, it is also having a profound impact on our mental health.
One group that is particularly at risk of poor mental health during this time is our teenagers. Isolated from their friends, unable to attend school and dealing with exam uncertainty has meant that many of our young people are feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Thankfully, there are places that they can turn. Jigsaw is a registered charity and the National Centre for Youth Mental Health in Ireland. We spoke to Jen Trzeciak, an eMental Health Clinical Manager with the charity to find out more about how we can support our young people during this pandemic.
While Jigsaw offers one-to-one therapeutic sessions and community-based programmes, they are now tailoring their services to provide more online help and advice.
“Our focus right now is on our young people and their families and how we can support them,” explains Jen. “Jigsaw online is our website where we are updating information every day. All of our clinicians are still working from home. We’re still trying to deliver a service to young people so we’re updating daily blogs and information.”
Along with a new daily email service that provides updates, young people can also talk to clinicians online.
“We’ve got email support and online chats,” she explains. “We’re offering two live chats with a clinician in a group context every day. We’ve started doing Instagram Live sessions once a day as well for the moment. They focus on different strategies for relaxation, mindfulness, coping and those kinds of things. We’re definitely moving into the online space in a big way.”
The important thing to remember about Jigsaw is that it is free and accessible for all, which is particularly important during this time of uncertainty.
“Young people don’t have loads of cash,” explains Jen. “People don’t need to have a GP referral or anything like that. If people feel like they need the support, it is there for them. Jigsaw online is accessible to anybody and everybody. It’s really important that people feel like they can go online and get what they need.”
Many teenagers are currently isolating at home. That means that they are interacting with their parents more than ever before.
“Parents have such an important role to play in supporting the mental health of their young people,” states Jen. “We have some online courses for parents in terms of mental health but also their own self care and how they look after themselves.”
“First of all, we really encourage parents to look after themselves. It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment. If we’re feeling tense, things can escalate really quickly. If we’re not looking after our own mental health it is hard to be there for everyone else.”
Jen also recommends letting go of any preconceived ideas about life in quarantine.
“This is not an ordinary situation so it is important that parents take a step back,” she explains. “Do not focus on keeping everything running like it’s ‘Business as usual’. Initially, I think everybody was feeling a lot of pressure to keep up with the school work and keep up with their usual routines but, the reality is, that’s really difficult. Take the pressure off and figure out what are the key things you need to do to keep your household running.”
It’s also very important to talk about the current situation within your home.
“Talk to young people about their routines and what they need in terms of space and in terms of time,” states Jen. “Offer everyone the opportunity to talk about what has been going on and express the emotions around it. For young people, being able to name and acknowledge that this is a difficult time and that it might provoke anxiety is actually helpful for them.”
“Give people the space to have those feelings and thoughts. With all our work, we are encouraging a level of compassion. Support each other while acknowledging the difficulties. Realise that we are all doing the best we can in this situation. It’s not easy, we’re all going to struggle with it at times but if we can support each other as best we can throughout it, that is what will get us through.”
If you would like to donate to Jigsaw and ensure their vital work continues, you can do so on their website.