Published: 06:00, 09 October 2020
The gap in mental health support has widened during the coronavirus pandemic and young people are struggling to access counselling services, according to a Thanet -based youth organisation.
Pie Factory Music, a charity in Ramsgate providing workshops and music programmes for young people, has seen a 200% increase in referrals for pastoral support since the national lockdown in March.
In an effort to plug the gap, the charity is launching a fundraising appeal called Soundcheck on World Mental Health Day (Saturday, October 10) to provide free counselling sessions to 11-18 year-olds across East Kent.
Steph Dickinson, managing director, hopes the funds raised will secure at least six qualified counselling sessions for 15 young people and 35 one-off sessions.
The 35-year-old said: "We've already been aware that many of the young people we support were already experiencing challenges, especially around mental health.
"Our referrals for mental health have gone up 200% in lockdown alone, and we're aware that creativity is a vehicle for all sorts of things, but underneath all of that if you're really struggling with your mental health that's the thing we need to be addressing.
"They've had changes to their school, home, some have had bereavements and trauma through lockdown and now is the time we're needing to act pretty urgently."
The Thanet charity, which has been running for nearly 20 years, has also secured a diverse range of counsellors to match young people with professionals who can closely relate to their own experiences.
Steph said: "We've engaged with some amazing counsellors from all different ethnic origins and races to make sure that we're catering for all of our young people.
"The other thing we've noticed in lockdown is young people are starting to talk about experiencing racism and all that conversation around race has actually triggered a lot of stuff for them.
"We want to respond to that by matching them with counsellors that really know what they're doing, and can understanding growing up and experiencing that."
People donating at least £20 to the Soundcheck campaign will receive one of two t shirts designed by local artists Paul Camo and Rob Flowers.
One of the shirts was designed around the Black Lives Matter movement, coinciding with October's Black History Month.
The funds raised would also help support the organisation in putting on creative intervention sessions, giving 8-18 year-olds the opportunity to work with a musician or artist.
In a recent survey, Young Minds reported that 80% of young people in the UK agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, with 87% stating that they felt lonely or isolated and 31% saying they were no longer able to access support but needed it.
Other charities have also spoken out about the effects of the pandemic on mental health.
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said: "This pandemic has been as much a mental health emergency as a physical health emergency.
"We cannot underestimate the long-term effect this will have on people’s mental health.
"We know existing demand for mental health services is set to increase, and our research shows people with mental health problems already have been struggling to access the support they need in primary and crisis care."
Whilst the pandemic has put a hold on the usual busy sessions at the organisation's centre opposite Ellington Infant School, Steph and her team have been adapting their services to keep connected with the young people as much as possible.
This has included a number of mental health check-ins, 1-2-1 sessions and new creative activities such as daily creative challenges, competitions, online live events such as DJ nights, and the delivery of care packages.
"Now is the time we're needing to act pretty urgently..."
Steph said: "Although some things are slowly starting to return, we know that the impact of this year will take us all, especially young people, a long-time to recover from.
"We are aware that some young people are now in need of urgent, professional support and whilst mental health services are doing their best to keep up with the increasing demand, for some young people, the wait is too long.
"We feel it’s our duty to step in by creating immediate support, to reach our young people who need it now.
"But we can’t do it alone, we need our community to help us. We know it’s a tough time for everyone, but any small donation can go a long way to make a big difference."
To visit the crowdfunder page and donate, click here .