COPING DURING COVID-19
COVID-19 presents many challenges. Many young people have been feeling isolated from their friends and peer communities and experienced anxiety about future uncertainty. A subset of young people have experienced severe illness of family members and friends due to COVID-19, giving rise to grief, sadness and fear.
When we talked to young people about their support needs, many felt that they would benefit from joining a peer support network. This is why the University of Oxford teamed up with YouthEra, the Uplifters, and the NeurOx YPAG, to create and deliver Coping during COVID-19, and to understand how young people experience this programme. The project is led by Dr Gabriela Pavarini, a researcher with experience in youth empowerment and digital innovation, along with colleagues at the University of Oxford. The course is led by Youth Era, a charity that is leading the way in online peer support, you can read more about Youth at www.youthera.org.
Youth Era provide training materials while youth will facilitate small groups to participate in hands-on impactful activities, engage in small group discussions, and build relationships with other supportive young people. Youth take the course in a total of 60 and work in small groups of 7, guided by a young person trained in peer support. Key topics that covered during this course include (but are not limited to):
Identifying your own Strengths
Developing & Harnessing Purpose
Previous Online Peer Support Project
Gabriela Pavarini, Tessa Reardon, Vanessa Bennett, Anja Hollowell, Emma Lawrence, COVID-19 Peer Support YPAG, Ilina Singh
University of Oxford, YouthEra, The McPin Foundation, Imperial College London, COVID-19 Peer Support YPAG
In our initial project, we co-designed a Peer Support Training Course (the “Uplift Programme”) with Youth Era and the NeurOx YPAG and tested the impact of the training on those being trained as peer supporters. We found that the training led to both higher levels of well-being and civic engagement, including: self-awareness and self care, “helped me embrace who I am”; improved support giving skills, “feel more prepared to help my friends and peers”; and empowerment “[the course] reinstated my sense of purpose”.
Our findings speak to the value of digital innovation and the benefits of structured peer support training for those receiving training. We concluded that peer support training possesses the potential to enable and empower youth to be change agents and to promote their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing, thereby strengthening resilience in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and future global crises.
Coping During COVID-19: Development, Research Project and Impact
Our follow-up project involved testing a peer-to-peer intervention delivered by the participants (or Uplifters) from the previous project, who had now been trained in peer support and co-produced this project. The project is called “Peer-to-Peer Support to Help Adolescents Cope with Moral Distress during COVID-19”. Prof Ilina Singh is PI, and the projects is funded by the Westminster Foundation.
21 uplifters co-delivered Coping During COVID-19 to 100 young people. Using an RCT, we assessed the impact of participating in Coping During COVID-19 on adolescents’ well-being, coping and sense of connectedness.
Data analysis is currently underway. However, preliminary results indicate that the programme was transformative for both young people who received it, and those who delivered it. Participants referred to gains in self-esteem, connectedness and coping skills. In one participant’s words:
I definitely feel more able to express myself, after all the activities where I realised I wasn’t alone, I have felt that my worries are shared with a lot of people (…) I also feel SO much more connected to the things I love like music, I have a depper passion and I love it. I think I have learned to use it more when I’m upset and it’s becoming a valuable thing to me.
The uplifters were able to deliver the programme skilfully, and many mentioned the programme helped them regained sense of purpose and self-confidence during this time. For example, one of the uplifters wrote:
I think that Uplift had given me a sense of purpose. When I’m at school I feel like I’m doing work as a means to an end. But with Uplift I felt like it was a choice I made to help pthers but in the journey was able to help myself. I’ve become kinder to myself, I’ve embraced the strength and support that my uplifters had shown me to give to others in my life. I feel like I have the potential to support someone and make the world a little less lonelier for someone else. I now know that I’m capable of anything I put my mind to.
During a focus group discussion with the uplifters, we asked each of them to describe the programme in 3 words. As shown in the figure below, Coping During COVID-19 was perceived to be insightful, though-provoking and empowering for youth.
YOUTH ERA PEER SUPPORT TRAINING LEADS
A Team of Young People Trained in Peer Support
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Department of Psychiatry