Youth Wellbeing Out of Covid provides spaces for young people in North Lanarkshire to learn to play music and socialise. Project leader Erasme Kokonge speaks about how learning instruments and talking about their lives has helped members' mental health.
The area of Lanarkshire where we are is quite remote and young people here are very sociable, so being stuck in the house for a long time during Covid-19 wasn’t something they were used to. All the time alone had an impact on their mental health but they didn’t fully appreciate why. Being part of a community was a way of helping them to improve their mental health again. Our music and social facilities are places for them to come and express themselves in a way that they might not even realise they need.
Now cost of living is an issue and it’s had an impact on the young people. Many have started to arrive at groups hungry because their parents have had to cut back. Their mood is different, their energy levels are lower. We’ve started to supply snacks and food while we teach them, and there’s a difference in the way the group acts and their ability to learn once they’ve eaten.
Some of them don’t realise the affect the cost of living is having on them because it’s indirectly through their parents, but they recognise that there’s a difference. They’re expressing something without properly knowing what it is. Part of our role is to help them express themselves without them feeling uncomfortable.
When young people leave this project, we want to see them go out there and thrive. We want them to do what they do best.
We have normal day-to-day conversations. They may come up to us and say things like they used to have packed lunches or snacks after school but not anymore, and instead of telling them that’s because of the cost of living crisis and potentially making them feel self-conscious about things, we listen to them and ask them what they would like us to do. We ask what kind of things they like to eat.
So we’re creating this sense that no matter what, they feel able to express themselves and address their needs and feelings. Being able to communicate with them as normal human beings, whether they’re a lot younger than us or older teenagers, helps minimise stigma so that they can tell us what they require as a community.
We do that through the activities as well, which help their mental health. We teach guitar, keyboards, drums, how to create a beat, how to write lyrics or poetry. The young people pick up a theme, any theme to do with how they’ve been affected mentally and we help them create a piece of music from it. At the end of the project we’ll put on a show where they can perform and hopefully feel confident. When they leave this project, we want to see them go out there and thrive. We want them to do what they do best.
Half an hour before our sessions ends, we sit around the table and just have a normal conversation about how life is going for everyone, and we hear about everything from school problems, relationship problems, things about their friends. This is mental health support but it’s presented informally, and what we see is young people leaving the sessions feeling unburdened and a little bit better.
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