Children and young people shouldn’t have to be concerned about their future or worried about the present. But they are. Because after two years of disrupted education, limited social contact, and a growing rise in mental ill health, young people - and particularly young women - are feeling disconnected and alone. 

In her latest blog, The Girls’ Network co-founder and CEO, Charly Young, looks at three recent studies into young people, and explores what charities like ours can do to enhance wellbeing at a time of declining mental health among girls and young women. 

We’re dealing with widespread disconnection 

The Prince’s Trust NatWest Youth Index shows that unhappiness in people aged 16-25 has hit a 13 year low, with 48% of young people experiencing mental ill health. At the same time, Steer Education’s Young People’s Mental Health in the UK report indicates that there is a significant division between the mental health of girls and boys, with the former twice as likely to be experiencing mental ill health by the time they are 18 than their male peers. And the #BeeWell Survey 2021 found  that, among 40,000 young people surveyed in Greater Manchester, girls were three times as likely to report serious emotional difficulties than boys. 

These reports tell us what we already see on a daily basis - that girls are struggling with peer-to-peer connection. At The Girls’ Network we believe that mentoring can offer a sustainable support system, not only during this heightened time of distress, but long into the future. During the 2020/21 financial year 98% of mentees said their mentor  helped them feel more positive about the future. This can be the power of meaningful connections on how young women - young people - see themselves and their futures, and in turn have an impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Building a sustainable foundation for connection

As a charity working with young women our mission isn’t simply about mentoring - though that is the solid foundation of it - it’s about community building and connection. It’s about growing a sustainable network of women and girls who can support, nurture and champion one another. It’s about providing experiences that create a sense of togetherness and support positive mental health. 

While our central aim is to provide impact through mentoring, the long-term goal is a community of women that are able to access friendship and support, while enabling our mentees to feel better equipped to make decisions for themselves and their future. These recent studies demonstrate just how important accessible programmes like mentoring are - and will likely continue to be - as the impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt. 

Practical and wellbeing support are both vital

What these reports highlight for me, as a woman working in the landscape for women and girls since 2013, is that peer support and a sense of belonging are both key right now. That yes, access to opportunities and work experience and workshops remain important, but so too is an offering of community support that can underpin positive wellbeing. They go hand in hand, and are equally urgent in their need. 

When we align both, we may start to see a positive shift in the wellbeing and future outcomes for young women in England.