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The coronavirus pandemic is having a significant impact on young people’s mental health. Youth care researcher Levi van Dam suggest with international colleagues that mentors chosen by young people themselves from their own social environment could be used to help them. Van Dam and his colleagues set out the tried and tested benefits of this form of support in the leading scientific journal 'JAMA Psychiatry'.

Various studies alarmingly report the major impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of young people and increased loneliness, depression and anxiety. It’s not only youth care and mental health care professionals that can help in this regard, say Van Dam and his colleagues, young people’s social networks can also be used as a buffer to help them.

A mentor from their own social environment

Youth care researcher Levi van Dam specialises in research around Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM). In this form of mentoring, young people and their families are helped to find a mentor in their own social environment. This mentor and the young person concerned are supported by professionals to work towards a specific goal. For example, if the young person in question lives in an unsafe environment, the goal would be safety, or if there is a possibility of the young person being placed in care, the goal would be preventing this from happening. Collaboration with other professionals who are involved with the young person also plays a key role in this programme.

Copyright: Levi van Dam
In these challenging times in particular supportive relationships can be a real antidote to loneliness Levi van Dam

Given the promising results of various studies into this form of mentoring, Van Dam, together with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts and Boston University, suggests that it could also be used for young people whose mental health has been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The benefits of Youth Initiated Mentoring

Van Dam and his colleagues mention a number of specific advantages of the YIM programme:

  • The young person trusts the mentor more and because of the knowledge that the mentor already has, the expectations are often more realistic
  • The relationships are longer term: research indicates that mentors in this programme remain involved with their mentees for far longer
  • Specific goals can be achieved more effectively: unlike formal mentoring programmes, which often involve more generic support, YIM formulates specific goals which apply to the young person in question
  • The programme has the potential to help young people in all socio-economic levels of society

‘In these challenging times in particular, when people are feeling more isolated and lonelier due to the COVID-19 restrictions, supportive relationships can be a real antidote', the researchers conclude.

Publication details

Levi van Dam, Jean Rhodes, Renée Spencer: Youth-Initiated Mentoring as a Scalable Approach to Addressing Mental Health Problems During the COVID-19 Crisis, in: JAMA Psychiatry (28 April 2021).

Dr L. (Levi) van Dam

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Forensic Child and Youth Care