The thesis will describe youth mental health in time of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically from the perspective of youth workers and youths. The first part summarizes a few theoretical bases on the subject of mental health, more specifically with prominence on the experience of stress, introduces the youth sector with an emphasis on youth centres, and concludes with a presentation of social work with youths in time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second, empirical part, describes the qualitative study. The study was conducted with a focus group involving four youth workers and separate interviews with two youths. With a concentration on what the mental distress of adolescents and youths are in time of the COVID-19 pandemic, what can youth centres do in this field and why youth centres are important for adolescents and youths. The results showed a rise in mental distress among adolescents and youths in time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental distress was defined by a rise of loneliness, anxiety, talk of suicide, lack of meaning, and lack of motivation. The distress among youths and adolescents ingrained itself during the pandemic, predominately because of dysfunctional family settings and financial distress, which harmed the entire student population. The two youth interviewees expressed missing socializing, expanding their social circles, informal education, active participation trough creativity, and active citizenship. Alarmingly it must be stressed that access to professional help has been made difficult due to lack of availability of institutional treatments and that adolescents and youths are treating their distress by consuming alcohol, smoking marijuana, using benzodiazepine, and injecting heroin. The mental distress was also experienced by the youth workers. The distress was associated with their field of work, just as much as their personal lives. The youth centres adjusted their work successfully to the COVID-19 pandemic. They strengthened their online presence, with the main drive of the youth centres being quick availability and meeting with and for youths in accordance to the pandemic regulations. The youth workers convey that the greatest responsibility with addressing mental distress among youths and adolescents lies with the government, which should provide financial support for an organized system for accessible help for youths, free consultations, and education of experts. Both youth interviewees have outstandingly positive experiences with the youth centre, listing feelings, such as, being accepted, a sense of belonging, an opportunity to expand their social circles, trusted relationships with safe individuals, and an opportunity for active participation. The youth centres represent safe spaces, and simultaneously have a distinctly counselling role by addressing the structures in society which negatively influence the mental health of youths. They have an important role at informal education and active use of spare time. The youth interviewees’ greatest wish is support from a youth worker, who would provide a safe space and care for their wellbeing. They believe that even during the pandemic, meetings and activities should continue in person.