While the triggers of teen depression may vary, the outcome is often quite similar — young people becoming increasingly dejected and isolated, often feeling like they have no one they can talk to.
In many cases, web and telephone help services are a last resort, and crucial lifeline, when a troubled teen can’t confide in friends or family.
Services like Kids Help Phone, which went live in May 1989, offer year-round, 24-hour access to professional counselling and referrals. All calls are anonymous and confidential, and Kids Help Phone counsellors, like 28-year-old Lee-Anne Crawford, are professionals in their field.
“I’ve been working at Kids Help Phone for three years, I have a background in social work, a Masters in social work,” she told CityNews.ca. “You have to have a background in counselling, so either social work…sometimes child and youth work and also have to be familiar with crisis interventions, how to work with clients who might be suicidal and that type of thing. We are all professional counsellors.”
Although each case is unique, Crawford admits there are certain issues which frequently come up when talking to teens.
“The two biggest ones are peer issues and family conflicts…peer issues such as dating, friendship, that type of thing and some of the more serious issues include self-harm. We talk to a lot of kids who are dealing with self-harm, feeling depressed, have anxiety, eating disorders. We talk to a lot of kids who are having trouble with their body image, that type of thing is common.”
“Every day is different, the phone rings quite regularly here,” she adds. “We take a lot of calls every day. There’s no typical day, it totally varies.”
With the rise of social media, online bullying has become a well-publicized topic, and Crawford speaks with many teens who have been affected by online behaviour.
“It’s on the rise, it’s very common. We get lots of calls and posts from teenage girls who say they were dating some boy and they took sort of semi-nude pictures together and now he is texting them to his friends or putting them online.”
“It’s the same with internet bullying too because kids can say things that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face. So they can be a lot more cruel online and that can still have the exact same effect on kids. We get kids calling devastated because so and so is calling them these names online and it can cause them to be just as depressed and upset.”
Working out of downtown Toronto, Crawford deals with numerous calls involving recent immigrants who are having a hard time adjusting to a new culture. Often, they are being pulled in different directions.
“We get kids calling because they are being given one message from their friends or teachers from school and getting another message from their family members who were raised in a completely different society, completely different culture, so they are having trouble adjusting and figuring out ‘Who should I listen to’? “
“And even with depression, different cultures see depression differently and think it should be handled in a certain way. So if a kid is depressed, it can be hard. Some will call and say, ‘my parents say depression doesn’t really exist,’ or in my culture we don’t talk about depression. So that happens.”
Crawford admits that her job can be stressful, and at times, depressing in its own right, but she knows that if a troubled teen can connect with just one person, it’s work that can save lives.
“If you have somewhere that you can go and you can talk to a supportive person I think that’s going to make a big difference and I think the trouble starts when kids don’t feel like anyone can understand them and there’s no one to listen. So when they call and they say, ‘My god, thanks for listening and providing me with direction’, and they know they can call any time, I think that’s really rewarding.”