There are some conversations a family can have, but there are others that many kids likely don’t want to broach with their parents — or with anyone they know, for that matter.
Mel De Lisa, a counselling manager with Kids Help Phone, can attest to the importance of young people opening up about their problems.
“I’ve taken calls even as a manager, and I’ve heard them say, ‘I just want to be able to have someone listen to me, what I have to say. I feel like I can’t tell anybody,’” he said in a phone interview in early September.
“Sometimes it does result in some really positive things happening in their lives because they made contact with us,” said De Lisa, who until recently lived near Yonge and St. Clair. “Sometimes what that means is a caller will call once, but then call a few more times before they’re actually connected with services, because they are so timid or they have cognitive or social deficits.”
One of the biggest advantages, according to De Lisa, is that the service is both anonymous and confidential, which gives many young people the comfort level they need to be open about their situations.
“I’ve worked one-on-one with kids, in terms of child protection, and I think this is a service that can do so much good for kids,” he said. “There are children out there who really are victimized and so severely abused or traumatized from their situation and they are reluctant to tell anybody.
“The fact that it exists, I think, is a great opportunity for them to get the help they need.”
Following is an actual message sent to Kids Help Phone, broken up into three parts, with De Lisa explaining how counsellors would handle such a call.
“My life seems so pointless, I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve been thinking about suicide again.”
De Lisa says the first thing is to “acknowledge that we’re grateful that they reached out” and give them some recognition that it takes “quite a bit of courage and strength” to reach out.
“Part of that response would also be to let them know they are not alone,” he said. “There are many other young people, children and adolescents who feel the same way, and a lot of times the reason they feel this way may help to give them that feeling of comfort and be able to share more and connect with our service.”
“I feel extremely guilty for feeling like this because I know there are a lot of people out there that have it so much worse than me. I feel like I should just suck it up and stop feeling like this, but it’s hard.”
De Lisa said it’s not uncommon for children and teens to feel “it’s their fault”.
“Typically, that is the response we get from children being victimized, especially in cases of severe abuse and trauma,” he said.
“They totally feel responsible, and that is clearly not the case.
“We want to reassure them that it’s likely nothing that is their fault.”
The next step, he says, is to encourage kids to share a little more information and find out the root of their feelings.
“We don’t necessarily offer suggestions right off the bat,” De Lisa said. “We want to probe a little bit — about how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling what they’re feeling — and sort of gently guide them in the direction of possible solutions.”
“I never talk about the way I’m feeling with anyone — pretty much ever — and I don’t show emotions most of the time. I just feel I need to talk to someone about how I’m feeling right now, because I feel like I’m getting worse and worse.”
This, De Lisa says, is a prime example of what Kids Help Phone does best.
“Sometimes that’s the whole purpose of our service: just to be able to listen,” he said. “Just that alone gives us sort of a positive outcome to the call.”
But there is more to it than throwing solutions at callers, and it includes combining all the things De Lisa has mentioned.
“After that, we would then offer them resources to assist them further, but we take our cues from them,” he said. “Sometimes just being able to have that access to this service can really make a considerable difference in their lives.
“And I’ve seen it and experienced it firsthand.”
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