As we begin Mental Health Awareness Week which this year focuses on moving more for our mental health, Julie Done our Wrexham Community Maker discusses the challenges facing young people when it comes to mental health and the important role that movement plays in its support programmes.

The focus on movement and its important to good mental health is a really welcome focus for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Our work at WeMindTheGap continues to highlight the challenging times we are living in when it comes to the mental health of our young people, particularly when it comes to loneliness and isolation.

We know through our own research called The Big Conversation in Wrexham, which engaged over 400 18-21 year olds to gain insight into the challenges they’ve been facing since the pandemic, that 46% said they are experiencing loneliness.

Almost half said that even when they’re with people they know, they don’t feel they belong. One in three also said that they’ve given up on the things they enjoyed before Covid.

Loneliness can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, with research studies showing that it can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Research from the Mental Health Foundation also shows the well established links between loneliness and poor mental health, with strong links to depression and anxiety.

These challenges can be real barriers for young people when it comes to movement – we know from our work supporting young people across North Wales and the North West that those that are most affected by mental health are struggling to leave their bedrooms.

This is why we have been working to ensure that movement is a important part of our support programmes, which are all focused on helping young people to build their confidence, to engage with their peers and make connections to increase feelings of belonging, and to help build their skills to support them into the world of work.

In particular, being active is a big part of our WeGrow Programme, which runs over 12 months and provides young people with six months’ employment including life coaching, followed by six months’ dedicated support.

A typical week for a young person taking part in WeGrow starts with Brain Gym on a Monday morning – lots of movement to wake up brains and bodies, encouraging them to have fun and a chance to chat about their weekends. It’s all about helping them to feel energised for the week ahead.

We also ensure that each week includes a wellbeing walk to give space and time to be both in the moment and in nature, something which we know is really important to supporting good mental health.

Other elements of the programme include an outdoor education trip which is full of movement, learning, stretching, comfort zones and self reflection. We also incorporate volunteering, because we know from the five ways to wellbeing that giving back is one of the best things that we can do for our mental wellbeing. This also helps to give young people that sense of belonging and community that many are struggling to find in other areas of their lives, which often includes physical activity.

Across all our support programmes we aim to build in lots of opportunities for young people to be active, as a really important way to connect, have fun and release endorphins. This ranges from games of dodgeball to playing in parks, because these are great ways to boost energy and morale and enable them to return to our community hubs to engage in workshops with a clearer mind.

However, the journey to encouraging movement for better mental health continues to be a challenge for all organisations working to support young people. Many young people face significant barriers such as financial constraints, local of access to safe spaces, or lack of confidence to take the first step outside of their front doors.

Our work at WeMindTheGap is all about trying to break down these barriers, and engaging with our programmes is only the start, but with dedicated support, care and deep understanding of the challenges that young people are facing we know that we can make a real difference to their lives, and through building strong partnerships, we know we can do much more.

If you’re working to support young people, or provide any activities that the young people we work with could engage with to support their mental health whether through movement or other forms of support, we’d love to explore how we could work together to do more to improve the lives of young people.

Please get in touch today.

WeMindTheGap is part funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in partnership with Flintshire County Council and Wrexham County Borough Council.

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