New children and teen help line in Lambton

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Distress line calls up 146 per cent in Lambton

Heather Wright/The Independent

Since the pandemic started, the Sarnia-Lambton Distress line has been swamped with calls.

Adults struggling in a relationship during isolation, people who have lost their jobs and more than ever, children and teens have been calling for mental health help.

Donna Martin, program coordinator for the Family Counselling Centre, says since the end of March, there have been 146 per cent more calls. And it’s become clear more help is needed.

So, the centre is teaming up with St. Clair Child and Youth Services to use a grant from the Trillium Foundation to set up a dedicated crisis line for children and teens.

Martin says early in the pandemic, volunteers were answering calls on the existing distress line from their own homes. And there were a lot to handle.

“We were getting an increase in calls from people who were mostly worried; worried about what was going to happen, confused about what they should and shouldn’t do,” says Martin.

“It was anxiety, depression as a result of the isolation that’s inherent with the pandemic. And the volunteers have just been there for them to help kind of allay their worries and normalize things for others; to help them understand that we’re all going through this together. And what they were experiencing is for the most part pretty normal.”

And while the volunteers were helping callers to see their feelings were normal, it was clear the level of need was anything but normal.

Martin says since March 2020, they had answered over 3,000 calls; over half were from people considering suicide. The other half were suffering from mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

“I think for the most part, we’re all doing the best that we can but that doesn’t mean that we’re not struggling inside. We’re getting through each day but sometimes it just takes one thing to tip you over the edge. And I think that’s what we’re hearing is things that people could, in the past, probably cope with, they’re not coping with them.”

And Martin says more than ever children and teens were calling in with those complex feelings. “We didn’t get calls from children as much in the past,” says Martin.

That changed during the pandemic. And many found the help which had been available, like the Kids Help Line, wasn’t easily accessed.

“We have heard from some youth calling in that it’s been hard for them to get through. And they appreciate having a local person on the other end of the phone, for volunteers are well trained.”

The new funding will give local children and youth a dedicated place to call. And it will give the volunteers even more opportunity to give a listening ear and point people to counseling services if needed.

And while many children and teens connect with their friends constantly through social media, in difficult times, Martin says, that simply isn’t enough.

Many who called in, both teens and adults, had lost a job and wondered how they would make ends meet. The majority Martin says were from people struggling in a relationship.
Those calls, Martin says, were the most difficult and the most rewarding for the volunteers.

“Often the caller was feeling absolutely desperate, concerned about their relationship and concerned about whether their relationship was going to last. But coupled with that, what people are bringing forward is some of the mental health issues…what we’re finding is some of the callers are experiencing triggers, past experience, experiences, where they’ve struggled with mental health issues or where they’ve struggled with abuse,” says Martin.

“At the beginning of the call, the emotions are at a very heightened state. And then what the volunteers will do is they’ll give them all the time that they need to just unload. So our volunteers act as a sounding board for these callers.

“When people are in the throes of being upset, they often don’t see that they have got strength that they have; they do have the inherent strength to pull themselves through.”
So, Martin says, after the caller unloads all their hurt and worry, the volunteers reassure them they do have the strength to move on, acknowledging that they’re “going through a tough patch right now. And once we can start reflecting those strengths back to our callers, it kind of stops them in their tracks, and they’ll think, ‘yeah, you know, I have made it through some tough times before. And so I can probably make it through these tough times as well.

“But they’ve just forgotten who to reach out to. They’ve forgotten that they’ve had those inherent strengths.

“So what the volunteers said to me is that then, by the end of the call, they’re feeling more hopeful, like, yeah, ‘I think I can do it. I can get through this.’”

If you need help the new Crisis Line for Children and Youth can be reached at 1-833-622-1320. Adults may call 1-888-347-8737 for help.