The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week raises awareness of loneliness and the effect it can have on people’s mental health.


According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time and research shows that the longer people feel lonely, the more they are at risk of developing mental health problems.


Sue Geary, a Skipper for Tall Ships Youth Trust, spoke to us about the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and how Sail Training can be used as a tool to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.


Q. What role do you think Sail Training has in helping young people recover mentally from the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic?


“A Sail Training voyage provides a model community in which all crew can thrive, regardless of where they have come from. When you step on a boat, you can be who you want to be, not who people expect you to be. There is lots of physical activity; everyone has to work together, so deep connections and genuine friendships are made.


“When you step on a boat, you can be who you want to be, not who people expect you to be.


There are many new skills – from cooking fajitas to tying a bowline to helming a compass course – to learn and lots of opportunities to gain confidence and feel empowered, whilst also supporting others and empowering them. Then there is the environment at sea and our closeness to it; there is a meditative quality to watching the ocean pass by…and you might see dolphins!

Sue Geary, Skipper for Tall Ships Youth Trust.

A Sail Training vessel is powered not just by sails and an engine, it’s powered by its’ crew; by hard work, teamwork, respect, laughing together, sharing experiences and caring for each other.”


Q. Have you noticed an increase in the number of young people who are coming on board with mental health problems relating to feeling isolated or anxious as a result of the pandemic?


“How can you be lonely when you have 1000s of friends and followers on social media, or when your last photo got 100 likes? The online world that most young people inhabited before the pandemic could be a very isolating place. Constant comparison with the lives your ‘friends’ appeared to be leading – #livingmybestlife – could lead to dissatisfaction and insecurity, feelings of low self-worth, social anxiety and poor self-image.


Then along came covid and suddenly all of the genuine connections young people had – the schools, colleges, clubs & youth groups – were closed, and we were all forced to retreat further into the virtual world, where everyone else seemed to be coping better, having a better time, achieving more.

Sue operating a winch with a young person.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic are now merging with feelings of anxiety about returning to ‘normal’ life. Add to this the anxiety and worry that young people are feeling about the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and you have a mental health perfect storm brewing.


We are already starting to see the impact out on the water and our sailing staff will need to continue supporting our young people as they move forward and make sense of this crazy world.



To find out more about the life-changing work that Tall Ships Youth Trust do, click here.

If you would like to learn more about how Sail Training can boost young people’s mental health, click here to visit our #SailToWellbeing page.

For people working in Sail Training, you can find support and resources on how to manage your own health and wellbeing here.