Youth around the globe are struggling during Covid-19

Written by Laura Heming Phillips

Covid-19 has taken an enormous toll on millions of people around the world. Under the weight of fear and unknowns, many have also suffered with their mental health—dealing in silence with feelings that suffocate.

“I feared fresh air,” says 14-year-old Fatire from Ethiopia. “I dreaded going outside. I thought, if I stay outside long enough and breathe the air, I would die right then and there.”

Schools in Ethiopia closed because of the virus. Since then, Fetire had become paralyzed by anxiety about contracting the illness. She spent her days in her home, terrified of feeling even a light breeze.

In a nearby village, 16-year-old Sadam had been suffering in silence with similar anxieties. Day after day, his thoughts were filled with darkness he couldn’t escape.

“It all happened fast. Normal life ceased to exist with that very first Covid-19 case reported in our country,” says Sadam. “All I could think about was death. I was scared.”

Eventually, his anxiety heightened to the point where he stopped talking altogether.

Providing support to struggling youth

Fetire and Sadam represent many youth around the world who are consumed with anxiety in a world that seems hopeless. Sadly, their suffering often goes unnoticed.

But at a nearby Compassion centre, director Letarik has been aware of how the virus is impacting children and youth in a emotional way. “In times like this, children need us to bring back normalcy in their lives,” says Letarik. “They trust us enough to expect words of hope from us.”

Determined to help, church members, volunteers, and centre staff started brainstorming creative ways to respond. They started by providing consistent phone-based psycho-emotional support, creating virtual support groups, providing needs-based, socially distant home visits, and connecting children and youth to mental health professionals.

Breaking down fears and finding safe spaces

Staff and volunteers were trained to identify the specific emotional needs of youth during their conversations. Each was assigned five youth to call every day. Sadam and Fatire were two of the youth who were positively impacted by the consistent connection. Often through tears, staff and volunteers would pray, counsel, and just listen.

“I was shocked to receive a phone call from the Compassion centre,” shares Gobene, Sadam’s mother. “Not because I wasn’t happy to hear from them but because the phone call meant that my prayer was heard. All of us were scared.”

The phone calls have deeply encouraged Sadam. Now, he looks forward to every call, which always end with a word of prayer. As for Fetire, who was once too paralyzed by fear to go outside, she has found peace again thanks to the prayer and counselling she regularly receives. “My heart leaped with joy,” she says. “For the first time since I stayed home, I felt hopeful.”

Now that the youth have gotten used to the calls, they have started calling their designated volunteer just to chat. They have become relaxed. Their understanding of the virus and attitude toward it have completely changed.

Today, Fetire steps outside without fear to enjoy the kiss of the warm breeze. Sadam enjoys laughing with his family, who is appreciating his witty character that brings the family together.

“Our joy is in strengthening and encouraging our children in this crisis,” says Letarik. “We are committed to coming out of this more united and our bond with our children even stronger.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health in this season, we encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or professional. Know that you are not alone.