Last month I had the opportunity to become a young co-producer for a series of events about youth mental health called A New Tomorrow 2021.

“Colleagues at Newcastle and Imperial Universities are seeking young people aged 16-24 to join their youth group to co-produce several online events in March looking at the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s health, wellbeing & experiences of education.”

When I got the email to apply to be a part of this co-production, I knew I had to apply.

Mental Health is something, up until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that I’ve never really struggled with. Although I never really took this for granted, I feel as though i’ve been relatively lucky with my mental wellbeing. I’ve always been passionate about mental health awareness and like most people, grew up around others who suffer with their mental health.

Growing up on a council estate in Stockton-On-Tees, I constantly see the signs of poor Mental Health, and subsequently, the lack of support available to those who need it. You see everything. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, homelessness, crime and death. However, not all signs of poor mental health are visible. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, isolation, desperation, the list goes on. With minimal understanding, education and funding into Mental Health, how are those who suffer with it supposed to move forward? Especially in communities like mine.

When I eventually started working for Thrive Teesside and The Poverty Truth Commission, I got to put this passion for Mental Health into practice and work in participation with members of my community and civic and business leaders to address the difficulties of mental health and offer insights into the debates that could lead to improvements to services in our area. (For more info on this see our pages Poverty Truth in Lockdown, Mental Health, Our Journey.

The COVID-19 Pandemic not only highlighted but exacerbated issues that already existed when it comes to Mental Health and Wellbeing, and this was certainly the case for me. As the months of lockdown went on, with little tastes of normality in between, each passing day became that little bit harder to get through. By January 2021, my motivation was none existent, my interactions with other people (even online) dwindled, and my hope for the future was a distant memory. I can’t speak for everyone, but i’m sure for a lot of people it was also the same or similar, especially those my age.

When I initially came across the advertisement to become a co-producer for events around young people, COVID-19 and mental health, I knew it was a great opportunity for me to openly discuss my difficulties and insight in order to feel a sense of relief, but I also saw the bigger picture, young people working together to try and make real meaningful change, so this opportunity to speak with other young people about this and drive forward these online events to potentially help other young people came at just the right time.

Opportunities like this are hard to pass, meaningful participation in research and the production of events aren’t always made in participation with those with lived experience of the topic. After all the Poverty Truth Commission approach is, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”

Our first planning meeting

When the group eventually met via zoom to plan for our events, the conversations flowed instantly.

We spent some time of this first session getting to know each other; it was brilliant to see such a diverse range of young people from all across the country, learning about each other’s experiences. We then got to work and started to plan and prioritise the format and creative approaches to these zoom events. 

We started with a simple question,

What do you think 16-25 year olds would most like a session on to help them improve their wellbeing during COVID-19?

The responses varied, but each one as valid as the other.

  • Dealing with pressure.
  • Losing loved ones.
  • Resources to help them cope.
  • Sleep.
  • How to support each other.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Routine and structure.

We thought about how we might link up some of the topics for the sessions.  

  • Recognising what you’re feeling as a first step to talking about your mental health (and how you can help yourself and other people) 
  • Sleep and how to maintain routine. 
  • How to reach out to people and how to support each other.
  • It was raised that it’s important to talk about what the government could do differently and how young people can influence policy, not just what young people can do, maybe by asking the question: how should young people be supported (by the government, local authorities etc.) 

We were in agreement that it was important that young people were “in the room” during discussions about young people’s mental health. 

There was a feeling that young people have been left to “get on with it” during the pandemic, despite experiencing loss (of routine, motivation, family and friends, of making plans for their future during this uncertainty), without enough support to deal with all of the confusion and frustration they’re having to deal with right now.

Students of all ages were highlighted as a group of young people who might benefit from the evening sessions. From GCSE students, who were unable to complete their exams last year and have found their life plans and routine disrupted, to university students, who have to keep up with their workload when many are struggling to get by on a daily basis. 

We also felt that the sudden lack of structure for some school aged young people has had a negative influence because going to school is lots of people’s safety net.

The digital divide was highlighted as something that was important to think about, alongside the stigma attached to being digitally excluded.

We quickly decided upon the name for our project, perfectly titled #ANewTomorrow2021. Both positive and inspirational, A new tomorrow was chosen to signify hope, for the future, post Covid-19 and beyond.

I left the first meeting feeling excited, hopeful and content with the session. It was so refreshing to talk about these issues with people my age, hearing different stories, insight and knowledge about subjects that I had recently been struggling with; it was a breath of fresh air. 

Our second planning meeting

Our second meeting was dedicated to planning our promotion tactics for the events, as well as further developing the roles, structure and format of the meetings.

We pretty quickly got to grips with what we were asking for and started our outward promotion for our events:

Aged 14-25? Are you interested in chatting to other young people, professionals and researchers about the impact of #COVID-19 on youth #MentalHealth?  

We’re hosting two free online events for young people on improving wellbeing during the pandemic. These events are for you and organised by us. We’ve called it: A New Tomorrow. The issues we’ll discuss are: 

A New Tomorrow Episode 1 – Talking about mental health and getting support (March 11th)

A New Tomorrow Episode 2 – Getting a good routine and sleep (March 18th)

We had a discussion on whether mental health professionals should be in the room during our online events:

It was agreed that it would help to have professionals there to help create a safe space, giving the opportunity for people to have an outlet to speak to someone. We felt this was important to give people access to support they might not have had before, as the system fails a lot of people.

We really liked the idea of having a Q&A with young people and professionals, giving advice on the topics that we had chosen, in a sensitive and non triggering way.

The idea was that the professional presence at these meetings could help people feel comfortable with the option to send someone a private message to get support.

Also providing resources and ways that people can get help.

We also thought it would be good fun to help promote our events by creating a TikTok video. Tiktok is a social media platform with a younger audience demographic that allows you to post and share videos and memes. Coming up with a concept for this and executing it so quickly came as no surprise as a group of young people. It was great fun to film these little clips, with plenty of bloopers along the way!

We chose the song ‘Good Days’ by Sza as we thought it perfectly encapsulated the essence of ‘A New Tomorrow 2021’

“Good day in my mind, safe to take a step out
Get some air now, let your edge out”.

A New Tomorrow Episode 1 – Talking about mental health and getting support (March 11th)

Our first session was all about talking about mental health and getting support, something we all agreed was vital when it came to young people’s mental health during this time. To read more, click here-

A New Tomorrow Episode 2 – Getting a good routine and sleep (March 18th)

Our second session was all about sleep and routine, two things I’ve never quite got the hang of, but only made worse due to COVID-19. To read more, click here-

A New Tomorrow: Co-produced online symposium event. COVID-19’s impact on youth mental health. (25th March 2021)

If you’d like to watch our online symposium events. click here-

Final Thoughts

Being a part of this project came just at the right time for me. The impact of COVID-19 continued to weigh down on me heavily, this project came around before any news of a roadmap out of lockdown or any sense of relief. 

I was able to talk with other young people and vent and debate about all of the things that had been affecting us over the last year, lifting a huge weight off my shoulders, whilst also knowing that this research and these co-produced events could help other young people with their struggles.

Within our work at Thrive Teesside and the Stockton Poverty Truth Commission we know how vital it is that different areas of expertise are merged in order to have a true representation of the issues at hand, we believe this is the most effective way to make meaningful change and not leave anybody behind. 

I’d like to say a huge thanks to all those involved in these projects, I am extremely grateful to have been a part of this work and can’t wait to continue these conversations with a new project in development, a mental health film co-produced by young people (I will update as this progresses).

Poor mental health in young people won’t go away once the pandemic is over and this is a topic that needs to continue to be talked about and de stigmatised, but if I’ve learned one thing from this experience it’s that we are not alone in these unprecedented times.

Dylan Eastwood,

Stockton Poverty Truth Commission

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