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A MENTAL health specialist is encouraging young people in Renfrewshire to speak up if they are finding life difficult during the coronavirus pandemic.

While instructions to stay at home might seem easy for everyone, Youth Interventions (YI) manager Louise Dempsey insists some youngsters will be finding the stringent restrictions placed on their lives extremely tough.

Louise founded YI after spotting a gap in service provision in Renfrewshire for teenagers facing addiction and poor mental health.

The charity usually runs one-to-one and group support sessions at its hub in Linwood’s Mossedge Village, as well as workshops at schools across the area.

But this has all had to stop due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

While a crisis affecting physical health has caused mass disruption across the world, Louise said she is keen to remind people that mental health problems are not going to go away.

The mum-of-three insists young people must not be afraid to admit when they are finding life hard and has urged them to share their feelings about the lockdown period.

“Depression and loneliness were major problems before this pandemic," said Louise. "They don’t go away because there is a physical pandemic to deal with.

“Yes, it’s important we understand that we have to follow guidelines but, at the same time, it’s okay to admit that it’s a difficult time mentally.

“A lot of our young people suffer from anxiety and the amount of news coverage – and fake news coverage across social media – is going to impact that.

“We have continued to try and put the message out there that this will get better and that we are still here for our young people.”

Knowing that coronavirus was going to have an impact on mental health meant shutting the service down altogether was not an option for the YI team but they have had to adapt the way they support young people.

They have delivered wellbeing packs to families across the area, full of activities designed to help teenagers maintain healthy minds amongst increased screen time and constant coronavirus news.

The packs have included rainbows and hearts to colour in and display, a candle for everyone to light together and a reassuring message from the YI team.

A post-lockdown questionnaire was also included, so young people can look ahead and think about the first people they are going to see and the places they are going to go once restrictions are lifted.

Louise said: “We knew we were supporting a lot of vulnerable young people, so we had to get creative.

“We were concerned because young people’s screen time was going to increase and they weren’t going to be able to go to their clubs and engage with services as easily.

“The packs have been really gratefully received by the young people and their parents. They were chuffed to bits.

“We’ve still been able to provide a telephone service as well to some of the older young people who have got particularly high anxiety or history of substance use who normally access our one-to-one sessions.

"It’s not been ideal but at least we’ve kept in touch.

“Cancelling the service was certainly not going to be an option for us. We could not just say 'stay at home and you will be alright.' I believe we have a duty of care.”

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