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Youth Mental Health: The experience of the Italian Helpline

21 Safe Space

Telefono Azzurro commits to welcoming, fighting and monitoring children and adolescents’ mental health issues on a daily basis. The wellbeing of the youngest in the society is constantly endangered on multiple levels, last but not least the online world: the pandemic made abundantly clear the urgency to prioritize and address the topic. Data collected in the past two years underline an exponential growth of mental health related matters due to stress factors such as the duration of limitations, fear, frustration, boredom and the lack of social contacts. Covid-19 also exacerbated the situation of minors struggling with previous mental health problems, as studies show how emergency room accesses in Italy caused by self-harm and attempted suicide significantly increased even representing in some cases a higher demand than the actual accomodation capacity.

 

In the past biennium Telefono Azzurro managed thousands of mental health related requests coming from children and teenagers concerning self-harming behaviours, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts particularly counting 956 cases in year 2021 alone. Needless to say the contacts regarding generalised emotional distress were just as numerous.

 

Mental health data have in fact tripled in the last five years, attesting a significant increase from 928 in 2015 cases to 2556 in 2020.

 

It’s interesting to see how the helpline has represented a safe space for young people during an unprecedented historical period in which local resources were made unavailable due to safety restrictions.

 


Taking a look into data collected in the past two years, children and adolescents who contacted Telefono Azzurro mainly suffered from the abrupt changes in their habits, concerning friends, relatives, education and hobbies. As the government declared the lockdown, young people found themselves stuck at home and were no longer able to attend school and the environments in which they were used to express their personality and fulfil their development. Not to mention how home didn’t represent a safe place for many of them. The radical shifts caused by the pandemic have affected and continue to affect children, who experience an increase in sadness, self- closure, anger, as well as the aforementioned self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and even poor school performances related to troubles in staying focused and motivated.


Generally speaking, the difficulty of setting short and long-term targets due to the pandemic closures and the consequent deficiency of social and personal possibilities have led young people to develop hopelessness about their future and a lack of perspective, inducing severe emotional distress.

Telefono Azzurro also collected reports regarding eating behaviours. For instance, Mara, 15 years old, contacted to say that she’s been struggling with food restriction since the beginning of the pandemic over exercising and drastically losing weight. The girl managed to keep anxiety and guilt under control this way and also developed self-injuring behaviours and suicidal thoughts. Mara is one of the thousands of minors who brought their discomfort to Telefono Azzurro looking for someone to talk to about it.