This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week looks at the impact of loneliness on individuals and society as a whole with the aim of getting us to reconnect and boost our mental health in the process. With 1 in 5 of us feeling lonely at work and the pressures of Covid-19, it’s important to take steps to main our mental health.
Access to mental health services is limited and care-experienced young people often fall short of receiving the support they desperately need. In 2020, Drive Forward’s Care Experienced Policy Forum launched a campaign to boost access to bespoke mental health services for all young people in and out of care. Farhia, who brought the project to life says:
Help from my Mentor
Drive Forward has a mentoring service that pairs industry professionals with care-experienced young people to help give them the edge when it comes to the world of work! We are proud that a staggering 89% of our young people who engage with mentoring successfully sustain their employment.
Patrice is one of our young people currently working in the Civil Service and below he shares his experience of how mentoring became more than just about professional development and helped to reduce his loneliness during challenging times.
His mentor is James Fitzpatrick who has worked in the public and not-for-profit sector for the past 37 years and is currently chief executive of a grant making charity. Read more on why he became a Drive Forward mentor here.
The Impact of Covid and Loneliness
Patrice and James: Our mentoring relationship began in February 2020, and we agreed to meet in person each week to get to know each other and begin to map out how the mentoring process would be of most use. Seven weeks later the UK entered its first lockdown.
James: I recognise I’m really fortunate. I’m happy in my own company, I’m in a secure job, with a good employer, and I wasn’t particularly vulnerable to the effects of Covid. I had the resources to work from home, access entertainment, and communicate with friends and family without having to worry about costs. For me, lockdown was not a hardship, practically or emotionally. I know, for many people, that wasn’t the case.
Patrice: For various reasons, my internship arranged by Drive Forward did not start until September 2020. So, for the first six months of the pandemic, I didn’t have work colleagues or a work community that I could feel part of. Lockdown also coincided with my grandfather needing more support from me which I was able to provide despite the restrictions. This deepened my relationship with him, and helped me not to feel lonely or cut off, at least at the beginning of the pandemic. I learned to be his carer, and I also learned how hard it can be to try to get someone the support they need.
But I Grew to Hate Lockdown...
My grandfather died at the end of 2020, and I felt the pain of that loss greatly. I still feel that loss, and I also feel that the lockdowns have robbed me of a period of my life when I could have been doing so much.
I know that support was available for me from Drive Forward and other places. I also connected with friends and other people through my online gaming. I also took practical steps to help my own wellbeing, like eating healthily.
But for me, the loss of my grandfather, someone I loved and my closest family member, really made me feel alone.
Throughout this period, I have always looked forward to the mentoring sessions each week. I have now been in my job, brokered by Drive Forward, for a year and a half, and I’ve found the mentoring sessions – both during lockdowns and afterwards – to be beneficial for me. I have received useful information and suggestions, and I have found it helpful to be able to connect with someone on a regular, reliable basis.
Patrice and James: Each time restrictions were imposed we agreed to continue with weekly conversations, on WhatsApp. Each time restrictions were lifted, we reverted to meeting in person.
Patrice: Speaking on the phone is useful but I much prefer meeting in person. I think it’s a better way of communicating – being able to see each other makes it a much richer experience.
James: As a mentor, I’ve also found meeting in person really helpful. One of the key roles of a mentor is listening, and I have found it easier to do that when I can see the whole person. And Patrice has introduced me to the benefits of vegan cakes and smoothies in the café where we meet.
Patrice and James: Now that the Covid restrictions have been lifted – hopefully forever – we have agreed that we will continue to meet on a weekly basis until the end of our mentoring relationship in September.
Everyone at Drive Forward understands the importance of supporting your emotional wellbeing and that there may be times when you might want to speak privately with a trained counsellor. We can help with this and offer opportunities for free therapy appointments with Richard, an experienced BACP registered Counsellor. The service is available to anyone living in London, care experienced and between the ages of 18 -26. For those under 18, you can access support via one your Employment Consultant Or Programme Manager.