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Mental health: helping the child helpline counsellors to help children and young people

Counsellor

Child Helpline International launches eLearning on Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support

A teenage girl called the child helpline, seeking help on behalf of a friend who is 16 years old: “My friend says she just wants to die … please, can you help her?”

The girl reveals that her friend has behavioral problems. She has been harming herself with sharp objects like needles, and she’s been skipping school. This has been happening since she found out that her boyfriend had cheated on her. The caller doesn’t know how to help her friend any more, and is now so worried about her friend’s safety and wellbeing that she decided contacted to reach out to the child helpline for advice and support. The girl asked the child helpline if there was anything they could do, and she provided them with her friend’s contact details.

The child helpline counsellor made contact. The 16-year-old girl indicated that she was going through a heartbreak, and whenever she felt sad, she was hurting herself. She was grateful that the counsellor had made contact with her. The counsellor offered to put her in touch with a psychologist from one of the clinical partners the chilp helpline works with. The girl attended counselling sessions, in which she received psychosocial support. After just a few sessions, there was already a huge improvement – and she is now back at school and performing very well. 

This teenage girl is one of an increasing number of children and young people who are reaching out to child helplines across the African continent for support. Calls relating to mental health and wellbeing are on the rise, particularly because of the disruption to children’s family lives, social interactions and education that has been the result of the Covid-19 pandemic. And it’s not just in Africa that we’ve seen this: In the wake of the pandemic, mental health was the main reason children and young people were making contact with child helplines worldwide in 2021 

Who counsels the counsellors?

In Africa, our child helpline members responded to 2,793,561 contacts with 14 child helplines in 14 countries in 2021. They recorded a total number of 610,742 contacts who went on to receive counselling. Almost a tenth of these counselling calls was related to the child or young person’s mental health.

This rise in counselling contacts, and particularly the increase in calls relating to mental health and wellbeing, means that is not only essential to have counsellors who are sufficiently skilled to be able to respond to the calls, and help with the issues that children and young people are presenting, but also that the mental health and wellbeing of the counsellors themselves is taken into account, and that they are looked after and get the help and support that they themselves might need after dealing with these issues.  

It is with a view to addressing gaps in training for counsellors, both on providing psycho-social support to the children and young people who contact them, and on a proactive approach to ensuring that counsellors recognize when they need mental health support themselves, that Child Helpline International is launching four Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) eLearning modules on our eLearning platform for our child helpline members.  

These eLearnings have been developed with the support of, and collaboration with, JellyBeanz – a non-profit organization that supports children and their families who have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect – together with UNICEF East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO), Terre des Hommes and the WHO/UNICEF project Ensuring Quality in Psychological Support (EQUIP). In order to ensure the relevance and quality of these modules, these eLearnings have also benefited from reviews by Childline Helpline Zambia and Childline Kenya, as well as input from C-Sema Tanzania and Childline South Africa. 

We’re really excited to be able to share this eLearning to improve the knowledge of child helpline staff and the consistency and quality of training and service delivery on the topics of responding to mental health conditions, psychological first aid, child protection and staff wellbeing.