Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more youth are reaching out for mental health support, saying they face new fear, dread and hopelessness in the wake of the unprecedented crisis.
Victoria’s NEED2 Suicide Prevention, Education & Support organization reports a 15 per cent increase in the number of young people accessing its online chat program, Youthspace.ca.
The online chat and text service offers emotional and crisis support to youth under 30 across the country. Since the pandemic started, up to 50 per cent of chats have been COVID-19-related. Additionally, Kids Help Phone says its Crisis Text Line has seen a 350 per cent increase in texts related to COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of loneliness and isolation,” said NEED2 volunteer coordinator Daria Patterson. “Since youth are not really able to access the other supports they had in their life, such as their friends or their school counsellor…a lot of them feel like they’re almost completely alone in this time, which is why they reach out to us to be heard and have that additional support.”
Patterson said the program is revealing even more turmoil for youth in the LGBTQ+ community.
“It can be very isolating if they feel that their family is not supportive of their orientation or their gender identity,” she said.
NEED2 communications assistant Emma White echoes those concerns. Young people with difficult home lives have spent the last few months with little opportunity for escape.
“If you’re in a situation where you already have conflict within the home, and now you don’t have anywhere to go, that would be really stressful and unsettling and heighten everything else that’s already going on,” White said. “With something like COVID, there isn’t a lot that we can do to alleviate those feelings of uncertainty.”
But Youthspace offers a way to vent without judgment, Patterson added.
“Rather than trying to lift someone out of the dark hole they’re in, we’ll crawl down there with them until they’re ready to climb out themselves,” she said.
Bonnie Leadbeater, University of Victoria psychology professor and an expert in youth mental health, points out that the stress of parents and family can make home life even more taxing for young people, who might feel that their issues are trivial next to the economic and social impacts on their family.
“Very often, if parents are OK, youth and children are kind of sheltered from the environment by their parents,” Leadbeater said. “But when the stress is impacting everybody, I think there’s less of a buffer there.”
It’s important, she added, to acknowledge that young people may be as strained as the adults in their lives.
“We need to suspend the idea that teens are irresponsible and have no concerns,” she said. “I think if we can suspend judgment and recognize that they are making frontline contributions, volunteering heavily, delivering things, working in grocery stores…this is stressful and traumatic and asking them to put their lives on hold.
“Some of that positive recognition would be helpful for young people.”
For mental health information or support visit:The Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888 or 250-754-4447
The province-wide B.C. help line at 1-800-784-2433
Kids Help Phone online at kidshelpphone.ca.