A Christian charity is calling on churches to equip themselves to support young people with their emotional wellbeing following the coronavirus crisis.
Christian charity Acet UK has warned that the ongoing lockdown and pandemic could massively impact the emotional, relational and mental health of secondary school students as the closure of schools and concern about the virus leads to increased feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression amongst young people.
Spokesperson Gareth Cheesman told Premier they have started to see a change in the behaviour of young people since the lockdown but insists the full extent of the damage is not yet known.
"Some young people are becoming unduly anxious about meeting people and going to public places. Some are finding it harder to build connections with their friends while others are tending towards some risk taking behaviour as a way of making sense of it," he said.
Childline has reported a steep increase in the number of children seeking help since the lockdown started with the service holding one counselling session on average every five minutes for young people worried about mental health, abuse, domestic violence and family relationships.
Cheeseman says a lack of structure can perpetuate these problems: "School provides an opportunity for so many young people to meet positive adults who can be really great influences in their life - through teachers, support staff, and for some young people and it's an essential lifeline.
"With that taken away, these young people may find it harder to access the traditional routes of support and look for other coping strategies and unfortunately, sometimes picking unhealthy ones," he added.
Acet UK is urging both schools and the Church to make preparations to help support young people.
Cheesman says it is essential that Personal, Social and Health Education is prioritised in the curriculum as schools reopen: "There may be a temptation to focus on the academic subjects to catch students up for exams. But young people won't be able to flourish and achieve academically if sufficient time isn't given to emotional health and the consequences of both the lockdown and the return to schools."
Speaking to youth pastors and parents he said: "We need to think now about what we can be learning to better meet the needs of young people as they grow and develop. Would do we need to do to help young people work through all the long term impacts [of the crisis]."
Acet UK is offering accredited training courses to parents, teachers and youth workers in how to champion healthy relationships.