Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner May 13, 2021
I met a friend on the street last week and he asked, “How are you doing?’
“So-so,” I had to answer.
“Ah, yes,” he said, “a psychologist in the New York Times says we are all 'languishing,' that is, neither totally depressed nor brightly flourishing, but somewhere in between.”
That got me thinking about children and youth today and how they are faring during this long, tedious time.
I scan the faces of my grandchildren each Sunday on our family zoom call for signs of darkness. So far, their supportive parents and their own resilience have prevented the worst effects of living every day with alarming global news and feelings of anger at our provincial incompetence. Plus, there is the utter boredom of online learning.
I spoke with Beth McKinlay of Cavan, a recently retired teacher from St. Stephen’s High School in Bowmanville. Beth’s educational background was not in psychology or counselling, but she looked at her record of 19 years of teaching social sciences and encouraging teenagers, and decided she might be of use to kids in distress.
A year ago as the pandemic was worsening, Beth volunteered with Kids Help Phone/Crisis Text Line, a Canadian charitable organization founded in 1989, which has been called on massively during the past year by young texters with problems they seek help with.
Beth applied and took the 40 hours of on-line training, as did hundreds of other Canadian adults to become Crisis Responders, who first answer calls or texts and then may refer young people to professional counsellors.
“No issue is too big or too small,” she says. “We learn every day what young people are struggling with, the fears they have, the pain they are experiencing, and what brings them hope.”
“I committed to 4 hours a week for a year,” Beth continues. “We are a 24/7 service. And there have been a great increase in contacts since the pandemic. What started as telephone calls now is 50 percent via text. It shows the newer ways kids are communicating.”
“We are not trained to act as doctors, therapists, parents or friends, but as a sympathetic listener who can establish a rapport. Of course, we can’t change the situation, but we can encourage the texter to move from a hot moment to a calm space, and come up with a plan to stay healthy and safe.”
“There is no judgment. It is strictly private and anonymous. I usually discover the first name of the texter. A call may be 50 minutes in length.”
Now for a few numbers: Kids Help Phone is headquartered in Toronto. Its annual budget is about $20 million. These funds come from individual donors, from events, governments and corporations. The National Hockey League Players’ Association is a donor. Its annual accounts are audited by the Deloitte company. The employee list is around 200 paid professionals and over 1000 volunteers. At present, KHP is looking for bilingual and Indigenous crisis responders.
The heaviest time for callers/texters is 8 p.m. to noon, at which time, 34 percent of young people contact KHP. The busiest days are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. KHP receives over 3 million calls a year.
Recently, there was a video conversation with the prime minister in which he demonstrated his deep understanding of the needs of this group.
Beth says that while she is on the platform, there are several sources of support during a conversation. A supervisor and other Crisis Responders are always a message away. An extensive list of resources, both online and in the texter’s local community, can be provided.
I came away more convinced than ever, that after the pandemic we will have massive challenges in healing trauma and in strengthening the mental health of Canadians of all ages. It’s going to take all of us in a national effort.