Coping with coronavirus: a guide for young people

Page last reviewed: 11 September 2020

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

This guidance was produced together with the MHF Young Leaders. Assembled in partnership with Leaders Unlocked, The MHF Young Leaders are a diverse group of young people with a wealth of general life and specific mental health experiences who are helping to shape our work with families, children and young people 

Focus on the things you enjoy

“Find the things you like and turn them into your hobbies. I’ve started sewing, drawing and coding my LED strip lights”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

This could be an existing hobby, or something brand new that you wanted to try.  

  • Why not try: creating things (e.g. drawing, painting, writing, crafting), playing games or puzzles, decorating, or spending time watching content you enjoy on social media or streaming sites.

Find your news and social media diet

While it is good to stay informed, media coverage of the crisis can also be overwhelming and contribute to feelings of anxiety and worry. Experiment to find the balance of news and media coverage that works for you.

“Limit your intake of news (whatever format it takes). Being inundated with constant negative news and updates on death will only increase anxiety and fear over a situation that is beyond your control”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

  • Why not try: setting limits on how much media you watch, only going to a limited number of reliable places for news, or curating your social media feeds to prioritise content that makes you feel uplifted, and limit content that makes you feel anxious or down.  
  • Check out: any screen time features available on your smartphone or the Some Good News YouTube channel.  

Connect with others 

“One important thing is to have one person that I facetime once a day to have someone outside the family to vent to…”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

Try to make time regularly to connect with friends, family, classmates, co-workers or other people in your life. It can help you, and them, to feel more connected.   

  • Why not try: different ways of keeping in touch to find the ones that work best (e.g. video-calls, quizzes or games with friends) at a frequency that works for you.  

Find your routine 

Try to find a routine that is realistic, flexible, and includes some fun. There are many ways to do this, so experiment with what works best for you.  The right routine for you might look different from someone else’s and that’s okay! 

  • Why not try: picking three things to do each day, breaking your day up into chunks, or planning regular mealtimes and bedtimes.  

Move your body

As many of us are spending lots more time at home we may not be keeping active as much as we usually would – which is important for our mental health. Try your best to incorporate movement and activity in your routine, in whatever way works best for you.  

  • Why not try: a form of exercise that you already do, a new type of exercise, a stretch on the sofa, working out with a friend over video-chat, or a dance around your room!  
  • Check out: the range of different free exercise programmes on YouTube or different fitness apps like interval timers.  

Treat yourself (and others) with compassion 

This is a new, challenging time for everyone so try to be understanding to yourself, like you would be to a friend or loved one, especially if you are finding things difficult, or things don't go the way you had planned.  

You may also find that being compassionate towards others, and helping them if you are able, can make both you (and them) feel uplifted. Remember that everyone is in a different situation and may be struggling in different ways so being compassionate towards others can go a long way. 

If you’re living with an existing mental health problem

The current crisis can have an impact on existing mental health problems you’ve been living with or might trigger new symptoms. You may find usual face-to-face services are disrupted. If you’ve been receiving support for your mental health, you could talk to your therapist or other mental health professional by phone or e-mail.  

There are organisations offering some practical tips for managing your mental health during this period of isolation. This includes guidance from the Mental Health Foundation, and Every Mind Matters and support and resources for specific mental health problems like anxietyOCDeating disorders, and bipolar. There are also helplines and chatrooms like The SanctuaryPapyrusCALM and Samaritans

For Students and School Leavers 

Those who are studying in school, college or university can experience particular worries or challenges. Some suggestions for managing as a student or school leaver include: 

Studying with others 

“We have to do all our schoolwork but without the social aspect of having friends around and it can be really impactful”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

It can be helpful to study with others to boost your motivation

  • Why not try: organising online study groups with your friends or classmates where you discuss queries about assignments or share tips on studying from home, or watching a study with me vlog for motivation.  

Keep an eye out for free resources and qualifications

Many students who were hoping to start apprenticeships or enter the job market may be facing uncertainty about their job offers or searches. A number of resources like The Skills Toolkit and Future Learn offer free online courses in a wide range of subjects if you fancy learning something new, these might be a helpful way to stay motivated in this period of uncertainty. 

Help your teachers to help you 

Everyone is adapting to this new way of learning, even your teachers. Try to be honest with your teachers about how you’re feeling and ways they can help you to learn better from home. Your teacher or lecturer may also know of other support available for you. 

  • Why not try: suggesting new resources or ways of communicating online that your teacher might not be aware of, or if your teacher or lecturer doesn’t get back to you, find out who your administrator for your course is to use as a second point of contact. Keep a record of important communications with school staff, especially when talking about coursework, dissertation or deadlines.  

Focus on what you can control and acknowledge what you can’t

“Focus on what you can control… If you’re meant to be going to Uni and that’s up in the air, put it aside and look at what else you could be doing for the interim before carrying on that path again”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

There is a lot that feels uncertain right now,  like exam marks, university, job or apprenticeship offers, and what the world will look like in a few weeks or months. It can feel scary and overwhelming when we don’t know what will happen, and a lot of it will be out of our control. Trying to identify the things that you do have control over, and those that you do not, can help make this feel a bit more manageable. 

Be realistic, productivity is not your identity 

“Take it a day at a time, some days will be easier to stick to a routine than others. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t as productive as you’d like to be. Your productivity is not tied to your identity”

- Reflection from our Young Leaders

There has been a huge amount of change to daily life, and it may not be realistic to expect yourself to be as productive as you were before. If you find yourself feeling a bit unmotivated, or like you haven’t got as much done in a day as you usually would, that’s okay. Focus on making a plan that feels manageable for you as you are right now. 

If you’re isolated in student accommodation 

There is support available. Your university or the building manager of your private halls should have a procedure in place to make sure you have a way to receive food and medicines you need. Be sure to tell your tutor or student representative that you’re staying in your accommodation. Many university mental health services have moved online, and have temporarily removed the requirement to be referred by your GP – if you feel that it would help to talk to someone, take a look at your university mental health service page online. If you’re an international student take a look at the advice from UKCISA

If you witness or experience discrimination or racism, please report it. Racist incidents against migrants and international students have increased since the Covid-19 outbreak. Regardless of what’s going on in the world, racism is never ok. Report any incident to NUS and to your local police. Support is available from the Victim Support (for Wales and England) Victim Support in Scotland or Victim Support if you live in NI or Stop Hate helplines. 

If you’re worried about your finances, you can access guidance from the Student Loans Company (England, Wales and NI) or Scotland which covers some of the most common questions students may have during this time. If you attend university your university may have access to a hardship fund, which you usually do not have to pay back. Search on your universities home page for information on hardship funds. For further information, you can contact your university’s Student Advice Team (or equivalent). 

Further information for students is available from the Department for Education in England, or Scotland or Wales or NI. Information is also available from Office for Students and Student Mind

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

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Public Health England have developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.