Young people's wellbeing in 2021
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Young people's wellbeing in 2021

Emma Ferris, Head of Impact Evaluation

The mental health and wellbeing of young people has been a significant concern amongst health experts, educators and youth providers for some time now. As 2021 kicks off with a new national lockdown, the ongoing uncertainty and isolation caused by the COVID-19 will only continue escalate these concerns.

During the first national lockdown, young people’s lives were turned upside down through school closures, cancelled exams, job losses and social restrictions. A lucky few thrived as school-related stress and anxiety reduced, they had more quality time with family and were able to dedicate more time to hobbies. Many, however, really struggled and the decline in their mental health and wellbeing is deeply concerning. Research from The Prince’s Trust showed how the pandemic has caused significant increases in anxiety, despair and worry about the future, as well as a devastating loss of hope amongst young people who now feel their lives are on hold. Loneliness and social isolation also increased. 16-24 year-olds are more than twice as likely to have experienced ‘lockdown loneliness’ than those aged 55-69.

No routine, not being able to swim, no school. I became more anxious.
Young person, Outward Bound Covid-19 survey
A mental health crisis

Many health experts fear we’re now on the verge of a mental health crisis, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions and from deprived backgrounds are most at risk.

Data shows that mental health conditions have increased at an alarming rate, with reports of self-harm, sleep problems and eating disorders rising sharply since the start of the pandemic. Young people with pre-existing mental health needs have felt their conditions worsen and have been unable to access the support they need.

And the longer the pandemic continues, the greater the risk to mental health. It's estimated that 1.5 million young people will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis.

Complete drop in mental health. Began self-harming. Not being able to go to school. Struggling to find motivation.”
Young person, Outward Bound Covid-19 survey
How can Outward Bound be part of the solution?

For 80 years, Outward Bound programmes have been helping young people develop their social and emotional skills; skills which help build a strong foundation for wellbeing. One of the ways we do this is by designing challenges that teach them how to tackle problems with a positive mindset and to recover from setbacks. In overcoming these obstacles, they discover that even in the most challenging of circumstances, they can stay positive, take care of others and refuse to give up.

Outward Bound taught me how to overcome problems and challenges in my life and this pandemic was one of them. Unlike many people who freaked out, I was calm and simply planned and did what I needed to do to make sure me and my family were going to be okay
Young person, Outward Bound Covid-19 survey

This is often echoed by Outward Bound alumni many years after their course, who describe how Outward Bound provided their first experience of real challenge – the first time they faced a situation they genuinely didn’t think they could cope with and were forced to draw on an inner-strength they didn’t yet know they had. Discovering that they could indeed overcome these challenges gave them the belief they needed to overcome the many difficulties they’ve faced throughout their lives.

Life is limited right now

At a time when young people are in desperate need of the self-belief and self-reliance that Outward Bound develops, our usual residential courses for school groups aren’t allowed until at least Easter 2021. However, for anyone who has experienced Outward Bound will know, ‘CAN’T’ isn’t in our DNA and we’re determined to do whatever we can to re-build young people’s confidence and hope for the future.

Since August last year, we’ve been running a range of non-residential programmes, either at our centres or in schools, that enable them to get active in the outdoors and socialise with others in a Covid-safe way. Although these programmes are paused temporarily to support the national effort to slow the spread of the virus, over 4000 young people across the UK spent at least a day with Outward Bound between August-December last year and the impact on their wellbeing was immediate. The experience of freedom and release after months of restrictions helped to restore their energy and enthusiasm, they re-built skills they had lost or forgotten and they felt confident, independent and positive again.

You can read more about the impact of these programmes here.

I was feeling very isolated as we live on a farm and I had been home schooling during lockdown. I was very anxious about moving to secondary school and meeting new people but after my adventure day I was really looking forward to my new school and new adventure.
Christopher, age 11, Adventure Day participant
Helping young people in 2021

Looking ahead, I have no doubt that The Outward Bound Trust and the outdoor sector as a whole will have a critical role to play in restoring ambition, optimism and confidence to a generation of young people whose lives have been put on hold. Because, while the pandemic will pass, young people will feel the effects well into their adult lives and it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re ready to meet the challenge.

My course taught me that even if something feels hard you can still try and make the most of your situation and have fun. It also helped me to remember that there will always be something to look forward to and to keep a positive attitude.
Young person, Outward Bound Covid-19 survey

Free report: young people and covid-19

To read more about the role the outdoors can play in young people’s recovery, resilience and wellbeing.

How you can help

There’s no doubt, as a charity COVID-19 will have a significant impact on Outward Bound. A gift of £40 will enable a young person to attend an Adventure Day at one of our centres in 2021.