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‘Desensitised’ teens face mental health crisis

Huge workload for youth workers during pandemic lockdown

12 March, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Chris Mozo: ‘Before lockdown we were all saying, ‘reduce the amount of time your children spend on screens’. Now we’ve been saying, ‘stay in your house, stay in your room all day on your screen’

YOUTH workers have warned of a surge in young people experiencing mental health issues due to hours spent on screens at home.

Chris Mozo and Mitchelle Greenaway, who co-founded Jigsaw-GC which provides support for young people in Islington, told the Tribune they had often worked seven days a week for the past year, sometimes for free, to cope with the rising demand for their services.

With lockdown restrictions, most of their work has been done online with one-to-one videocall sessions and group classes, but they are bracing themselves for a fresh wave of referrals as children returned to school on Monday. The pair said that the potential damage caused by forcing children to spend hours every day at home on laptops is huge.

“Depression and mental health is going to be the most important thing that’s going to be affecting a lot of young people now,” said Mr Mozo, who was born and raised in Islington and has worked in several schools in the borough.

“Before lockdown we were all saying, ‘reduce the amount of time your children spend on screens’. Now we’ve been saying, ‘stay in your house, stay in your room all day on your screen’. Young people are very smart, you think the whole time they are on that laptop they are doing their lessons?”

He added: “It’s intensifying how much more content they are accessing. Children at nine or 10, they can operate phones or laptops better than their parents. They can take off adult locks, stream anything.”

Mitchelle Greenaway

Ms Greenaway, a qualified psychotherapist and counsellor, said: “We have schools ringing up saying they have young children that before they thought were fine, but are now not okay.”

A majority of teenagers have a smartphone with more than half of five to 10-year-olds also owning a device, according to one national study.

Mr Mozo, who also advises the council on reducing youth violence and crime, said: “Phones are a massive problem, because of how much you can do. If I’m a young person 20 years ago and I have a fight with someone then only our friends know about it.

“Now, everything is filmed. As soon as something happens, the whole borough knows. It’s put out at a larger scale. The smallest things that happen are filmed. It doesn’t just go out to your enemies, but their enemies. That creates mental health issues and young people feel all these people know about me so I have to go out and do something.”

He added: “I couldn’t tell you if crime is going up or going down, all I can say is that young people are becoming more desensitised to violence and stuff like that based on what is being put in front of them from social media and what they learn from friends.”

The Met’s Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSAE) Unit issued a call this week for parents to monitor what their children are doing online as reports of grooming has increased in the past year.

Jigsaw-GC, based in the Lift youth club near Chapel Market in Angel, was set up two years ago by Mr Mozo and Ms Greenaway and they have helped scores of children since – guiding some away from a life of crime into work and further education.

They advocate an “early intervention” and “wrap-around” approach where children are picked out at a young age and their parents are given help as well.

However, to make this strategy effective it requires a huge amount of investment from the government to allow charities, small community investment companies like Jigsaw-GC and councils to work together.

“There’s never enough resources, we spend countless hours looking for funding to allow people to access stuff without paying,” Mr Mozo said. “There’s going to be so much more young people that are going to need support.”

Asked if there was one thing they would like to change about the current situation young people find themselves in, Ms Greenaway said: “If I could change anything, I would want us to focus on emotional intelligence. Teaching young people to understand who they are.

“That would create the foundations to develop more things. If young people understand how exactly they work best, help them understand who they are separate to their parents, schools, friendships, then it will help build their confidence and get them to realise their potential.”

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