Food poverty and youth mental health

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With a growing need for food banks, what effect does food poverty have on a family’s youngest members, asks Dorset Mind’s Marie Glen.

For the past six months, I have volunteered at a local community fridge. I have seen an increasing number of families with children asking for support. Working a session on Christmas Eve, it particularly struck me how normalised this way of life had become for many families.
Between 1st April and 31st March 2022, the Trussell Trust’s UK network distributed 2.1 million food parcels to people in crisis – a 14 per cent increase on the previous year – and 832,000 of these went to children.

Poverty and young people
I began to consider the impact this situation may be having on the wellbeing of those children.
Living in a safe, warm and secure home, with enough food to eat, is fundamental to providing a physically and mentally healthy childhood. Sadly, for many, this simple basis has become increasingly challenging.
BBC Children in Need recently reported that 30 per cent of children in the UK worry about their families having enough money to live.
I spoke to a 14-year-old who comes weekly to the community fridge. She told me: ‘My mum fell on hard times about two years ago and we have been relying on the food bank ever since. At first, I was ashamed and found it difficult. People at school bullied me for being poor. I was also anxious about Mum. But now it is just normal, and I’m grateful for the help we receive.’
Wondering about the long-term effects, I spoke to an adult who had experienced poverty as a child: ‘I remember feeling worried. I knew that something was wrong because my parents were stressed and arguing a lot. I wanted to help but didn’t know how to. That feeling of helplessness never leaves you.’
The UK is facing a worrying escalation in children living in poverty. The associated mental health issues affect their education, social development, self-esteem and their ability to thrive. It may well continue to affect them into adulthood. It is vital we maintain connections with struggling young people and continue to promote good self-care and resilience.

Supporting young people
Dorset Mind and Dorset’s foodbanks are filled with passionate volunteers who support the delivery of vital services across Dorset. If you would like to help, I would encourage you to consider volunteering.
It’s not an entirely selfless act – being part of local organisations has been excellent for my own wellbeing and enabled me to connect and support people of different ages and backgrounds.
In 2022, Dorset Mind’s Children & Young People Service reached a total of 2,661 children and young people in schools, online and in their local communities.

Keep talking and connecting
We need to think seriously about the long-term impact of the current cost of living crisis and the effect it will have on the mental wellbeing and resilience of our future generations. Dorset Mind hopes that, through working as a community, we can better support young people.

Find local support
Local food banks in Dorset: helpandkindness.co.uk.
For support with debt and money advice call CAP on 0800 328 0006, or visit their website.
Samaritans provide a listening service through their phone line which operates 24hours a day, 365 days a year. You can talk through your concerns and troubles. Contact Samaritans on 116 123.
Dorset Mind wellbeing and mental health support: dorsetmind.uk

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