Summer nurses listening to young people after coronavirus lockdown

Teams of nurses and social workers in the capital are engaging with young people who trust them to discuss the issues they're facing in their lives.

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Helsinki's summer nurses talk to young people in the capital, July 2020 / Credit: Annika Schmitt, News Now Finland

Teams of nurses and social workers are back on the streets of the capital city this year to engage with young people about any problems they have – and it’s a task which has taken on even more importance after the coronavirus crisis.

On a sunny Helsinki afternoon nurses Henna SipinenHeidi Leppänen and social worker Ivan Maniraho will take thousands of steps and talk to dozens of teenagers in the city centre.

“When the schools close in summer, we walk around the city to see where they are. It starts in the beginning of June and ends around the 7th of August. And when the school starts, we are back at the schools too” explains Sipinen, dressed like the other nurses in distinctive bright pink t-shirts.

The initiative began last year when one of the city’s school nurses had the idea of going around the during summer holidays to places where young people gather and giving out free condoms, instead of just sitting in their empty schools for weeks at a time.

This year, the nurses expanded their services because of the need they identified from young people for more advice.

“Last summer we realized that the youth also wanted to talk about mental health, they have so many questions. So that’s why this summer we are not only the condom nurses, we are summer nurses and we can chat about everything with them” Sipinen tells News Now Finland.

There are 14 nurses walking around the city in pairs as part of the initiative, working in shifts from 14:00 to 18:00, sometimes accompanied by a social worker too.

Conversations between the summer nurses and young people include questions about contraception; where they can get more help to talk about mental health issues; how to get information about financial support from the government; or asking for assistance with finding a flat and furniture if they’re moving out of home on their own for the first time.

The nurses find there is no shortage of young people ready to talk with them, especially as word of the service started to spread. Trust too was easy to establish because the concept of having a school nurse was something familiar which the young people have grown up with.

File picture of pamphlets given out by summer nurse teams in Helsinki / Credit: Annika Schmitt, News Now Finland

Coronavirus crisis brings more issues

Like many aspects of life in Finland, the coronavirus pandemic has brought stresses and problems for young people as well.

The nurses find that young people don’t always know where to turn for help, especially during the weeks and months when schools were closed and they weren’t in touch with their friends, classmates and teachers face-to-face.

“A big problem is not knowing where to find the answers or which services are provided” says social worker Ivan Maniraho.

“So, we are kind of telling that we are re-opening and trying to get back to normal” he explains.

The student health service also opened up an anonymous online chat service catering to young people where they can write about their problems, during a time when there’s even greater need for mental health support.

The summer nurses teams are also using social media to let people know where to find them, by posting their location on their @stadinnuortensote Instagram stories account.

Summer nurses in Helsinki (L-R) Heidi Leppänen, Henna Sipinen, Ivan Maniraho / Credit: Annika Schmitt, News Now Finland