A dramatic surge in texts and calls from B.C. children to Kids Help Phone indicates the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the province’s youth.

Kids Help Phone is the country’s only 24/7 national service offering professional counselling, resources and support to children via text or phone.

According to president and CEO Kathy Hay, the organization has reported a 51 per cent increase in text messages from B.C. children, and an estimated 70 per cent increase in phone calls in the past 2½ months.

“Young people have been in an elevated state [of] distress, of anxiety, concern of the unknown. It is just a natural thing for people to be worried about and young people in particular,” said Hay on CBC’s The Early Edition on Monday.

Hay said since the pandemic began, many young people have contacted the service because they feel isolated. She added that discussions around body and eating issues, self-harm, emotional and sexual abuse, and grief are “exponentially increasing.”

“Unfortunately, sometimes the home is not necessarily the safest spot for some kids,” said Hay, adding this is why texting is helpful for children who may not be able to make a phone call.

Hay said she has also noticed some positive trends, including a reduction in the number of calls from children contemplating suicide.

“We didn’t anticipate that and 20 per cent of the work we typically do is around suicide or suicide ideation,” said Hay, who also said fewer kids are calling or texting because of bullying or cyberbullying.

But Hay worries about the long-term effects of the pandemic on Canadian kids, including dealing with a potential second wave of the coronavirus and transitioning to whatever the new normal will be.

“This has been traumatic,” said Hay. “Trauma is long lasting, it isn’t a light switch … and our data tells us that our volumes will not go down now, they will consistently stay up.” 

Getting help

Kids Help Phone is now offering support for grown-ups as well as children.

In April, the organization launched Crisis Text Line Canada for adults and seniors who need only text WELLNESS to 741741 to be immediately connected with a crisis responder.

For the past 30 years, Kids Help Phone has assisted Canadian children for free, any time of day or night, with confidential services available in both French and English. 

If you, or someone you know, needs someone to talk to here is how to reach out:

  • By phone: A young person can dial 1-800-668-6868 in any moment of crisis or need to speak with a Kids Help Phone counsellor.
  • By text: By texting CONNECT to 686868, youth across Canada can connect with a trained, volunteer crisis responder. Young people don’t need a data plan, an internet connection or an app to access this service.
  • By app: Young people can connect directly with a Kids Help Phone counsellor on the go using the organization’s free Always There app, which can be downloaded in English or French on Android and iOS devices.

To hear the complete interview with Kathy Hay, president and CEO of Kids Help Phone, on The Early Edition, tap here.

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