Over the 16th and 17th July 2019 I had the pleasure of working with some awesome people who delivered MST (My Strengths Training). These people are mainly sports psychologists, working to help implement and teach skills top athletes use to regular people like you and I.
Like all group activities and training, we started off with icebreakers, specifically beginning with a game of learning names. Throughout both of the days we were learning, our time was split almost evenly between being inside and out. This was ideal, especially for a group of young people. It helped keep things light-hearted, fun, interesting, and broke the day up so it didn't feel like we were back at school.
Before starting, we all knew it would be something worthwhile and valuable, just like everything we do with Youth Voice; what we didn't realise is just how much we would take away from the two days. We spent lots of time talking through emotions and how even though they can be super intense, they are manageable and there is more to us then what we are currently feeling. We identified mental skills and selected those that we wanted to work on, however the MST guys did something I hadn't experienced before, on the same 'worksheet' they also got us to write down the skills we were already good at so we could take a moment to recognise and value our strengths. There was also some team building exercises too, bringing me much closer to people I had really only just met.
My favourite part of the short course was the discussion we all took part in at the end of the last day. We were split into two teams of around 5 people at random, and were given a side of the argument, regardless of whether we supported it or not. The statement we were given?
Social media is bad for mental health.
Now when we were given this statement I jumped straight to disagree, already having my reasons lined up ready to present in my head, only to be told two minutes later that I would be arguing FOR the statement. I was stuck, I'm not used to things not coming readily to my mind, especially on a statement like that, yet I had nothing. This only increased my stress and anxiety but it was quickly eased and brought down after a conversation with one of the team, while also practicing a willingness to participate and telling myself it was okay to be 'wrong'; at the end of the debate I realised couldn't be "right" as the answer wasn't so black and white. Each argument had many strong, convincing key points:
> Low self-esteem. People from all age ranges find themselves comparing their own lives to the lives others present on social media. This can lead an individual to feel unsuccessful, behind in life, or believe that they are not as good as people they see.
> FOMO (Fear of missing out). This is created by seeing friends, or friends of friends having group experiences that you as an individual are 'missing out' on. This can cause someone to constantly be worried about being seen doing exciting things, concentrating on how good it looks online meaning they miss out on the experience altogether.
> Lack of empathy, understanding, and social skills through lack of face to face contact.
> The blue light behind phone and computer screens can damage or interrupt a person's sleep cycle. Lack of sleep causes both physical sensations as well as a mental and emotional sensitivity.
> Body dysmorphia from looking at filtered and edited photos of various celebrities.
> Researchers found that teens who used social media for two+ hours a day were more likely to experience poor mental health, psychological distress and suicidal thoughts.
> Helping to prevent loneliness. People who don't have many friends, who are rural and unable to connect, or can't find anyone in their communities such as similar LGBT youth can find like-minded people online over various social media profiles creating a sense of belonging and friendship.
> Receiving mental health support. Many young people don't feel comfortable or safe to reach out for support with their mental health to a doctor, or in person to a family member or friend. Social media allows people to reach out to communities which are experiencing something similar, to allow them to find the support and information they need.
> Psychology today stated that people who use social media platforms to connect with others do not always experience the negative effects. “In fact, when not triggering feelings of envy, the study shows, Facebook could be a good resource and have positive effects on well-being."
There were many many more points given in the hour we debated for but these are the key ones that stuck out for me.
Being put on a team, having to argue for a side I didn't agree with was probably the best thing they could've done, however accidental, because it made me look at a different view point in depth, really trying to understand the key points to provide a good argument rather than glossing over something I deemed already wrong and unimportant.
On the first day the MST team asked us all how we would know we enjoyed ourselves and had learnt something, my answer was easy, I would know that it was worthwhile if I would recommend it to someone else, and I can hand on heart say that I would.
We'd like to thank Becky for taking the time to write this blog for our website. We really enjoyed working with Youth Voice and look forward to working with them again soon - they will be advising us on a new toolkit aimed to help staff focus on young people’s strengths and development of mental skills within the homelessness sector (blog coming soon!).