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Imagine back in your younger days you were on the school bus headed for a day of learning. No different than previous days, but on this particular one you get off the bus well before pulling into the parking lot and contemplate taking your own life.
This exact scenario recently played out for a young girl. On the way to school, her head began to spin with the constant thought of ending it all. Anxiety had overrun her thinking. There was an immense sense of pressure to be perfect, to keep up with the teenage image crafted by her friends on Instagram and Snapchat.
While there were friends and family within her reach, she would stay up at night contemplating all the things that were wrong with her, how she didn’t measure up.
It happens more often than we—the adults—understand or recognize. Where did she turn to to get help?
This is the remarkable story of Kids Help Phone, a non-profit organization in Canada that celebrates its 30th anniversary today.
That girl texted the “Crisis Text Line” powered by Kids Help Phone and was connected with a crisis responder. She not only was in distress; she had walked to a bridge and was in the process of ending her life.
The crisis responder stayed with that girl even as her response was at times silent. Messages were exchanged to calm her down, to thwart her dire thinking.
At one point, the responder asked the girl to sit down and stare the other way. They then asked if someone could be sent to help her out. The young girl said “yes,” and her life got saved.
On-the-ground emergency responders arrived a few minutes later to take her to a safe place.
It is the magic of Kids Help Phone, and for 30 years they have provided this behind-the-scenes assistance to youths across Canada.
Mark Jordan is Chief Communications Officer for Kids Help Phone. He has possessed a front row seat to the social good that the organization does for thousands of kids each year.
“Behind every one of the almost 1,000 phone calls, chats and texts that Kids Help Phone sees daily,” he remarked, “are the real, individual lives of young people.”
Jordan and the entire team at Kids Help Phone know that young people are changing faster than ever. So too, the technology that they use daily is changing even faster. “The complexity of what young people are dealing with is only growing more complex as a result,” he said. “In many ways, Kids Help Phone has never been more important than it is in 2019.”
In every part of Canada, young people – both diagnosed and undiagnosed – are suffering from a spectrum of challenges to their mental health and wellbeing, including mental illness. Emergency department visits from youth with mental disorders increased by 66% from 2007 to 2017.
More than three million Canadians aged 12 to 19 are at risk of developing depression. At any one time, one in five young people is struggling with their mental health. The Canadian youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. And yet, only one in six young people get the service, support, and care they need.
An estimated 75% of children with mental disorders go without specialized treatment. Simply put, demand for support is outstripping supply, which leaves the health and well-being of young people at serious risk. It paints a picture of the struggles that young people face.
What it also speaks to is the downstream impact on society, as we know that 70% of mental illness begins in childhood or adolescence. Being able to intervene early and provide young people with the tools and skills they need to be resilient has an impact well beyond the immediate moment in time.
It’s precisely where Kids Help Phone comes in, and why it started 30 years ago.
“We have the knowledge we’ve gained over 30 years of connecting with young people,” said Jordan. “We are working with technologies such as AI and machine learning that allow us to even more accurately triage the young people who reach out us, while also shifting to become more predictive; both in terms of outcomes, as well as in terms of informing other institutions and policymakers across the country.”
At the core of Kids Help Phone is a safe, trusted place for young people to reach out, no matter what they need. Because the healthcare system is so extremely fragmented, Kids Help Phone acts as a system navigator—helping young people with assistance in the moment. The organization also provides referrals to relevant resources that exist in their communities.
Mental health has become an epidemic. The devastating effect it is having on our youth is unprecedented and unquestionable. It is time for the corporate world to support organizations like Kids Help Phone as demand grows, technology rapidly changes, and already overtaxed services become overrun. What can you do?
By working with Kids Help Phone or organizations of its kind, companies can provide and enable important mental health resources and services to their employees, families and their broader community network while preparing their future workforce.
“As a corporation, you are an advocate for your community,” added Jordan.
You can be champions for Kids Help Phone and groups like it by:
- Educating your employees and their families about our service for the benefit of their families;
- Actively investing to maximize access to service for young people by removing and reducing barriers to access and support, and creating vital, innovative relevant new essential service offerings.
Ways to get involved include:
- Philanthropic gifts: By making a philanthropic donation to Kids Help Phone and its brethren, your company is investing in providing e-mental health services and resources for young people 24/7/365 today and in the future.
- Employee engagement: Employees often want to support causes which are meaningful to them, their families and their communities. How about registering a team for a community event? Kids Help Phone runs a Walk so Kids Can Talk event to fundraise for youth mental health, so why not participate as a team? Do you have a company golf tournament or other events which could be a fundraiser? How about monthly payroll deduction?
- Cause Marketing: B2B or B2C – engage your customers/ consumers to support youth mental health too.
We are all in this together; be it corporations, kids, or society. There is increasingly more youth like the girl on the bus needing immediate help. Jordan agrees. “If you think you know who is reaching out to Kids Help Phone every day, you might be surprised.”
Everyday Kids Help Phone hears from affluent young people, educated young people, and intellectually sophisticated young people. They also hear from alienated young people, indigenous youth, and newcomers who are adjusting to unfamiliar cultural norms. Some young people live in remote communities who feel marginalized because they do not see themselves in the community around them.
“They have hope, they have dreams,” expressed Jordan, “and they could be your son or daughter.”
Congratulations to Kids Help Phone on 30 years. It’s time for the corporate world to do more as it relates to assisting them and others in the pursuit of improved mental health for our youth.
May 16, 2019 at 09:52AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs