Mental Health remains the number one reason that Australian children and young people contact Kids Helpline. This has consistently been the case for the last ten years but has been more prevalent than ever over the last two years in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic. In 2021 Kids Helpline’s professional counselling workforce provided almost 100,000 counselling sessions for children and young people. More than 69,000 of these sessions related to Mental Health, Emotional Wellbeing or Suicide Related concerns and represented an increase on the record numbers we saw in 2020 as the COVID pandemic started to take hold.
Extended lockdowns and restrictions – especially in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne were a major driver of this increase in help seeking from children and young people who were isolated from traditional support networks such as schools and peer groups.
At the same time Kids Helpline also saw a significant increase in emergency responses where our counsellors had to act to prevent immediate harm to child or young person. In 2021 we made 5,823 emergency responses, a 103% increase when compared to 2020. This equated to approximately 112 responses per week. Of these, 29% were related to a suicide attempt.
There is no doubt that COVID has had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and young people and we do anticipate that these impacts will be long lasting. What is encouraging however, is that we have turned a corner in reducing the stigma surrounding help seeking, particularly in relation to mental health and that more and more young people seem willing to reach out for support when they need it. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that we’re there to respond.