‘Youth in Canada are in crisis’: Kids Help Phone sees spike in calls since pandemic began

Kids Help Phone has averaged over 4 and a half million calls per-year since the pandemic began, saying Canadian youth are in a mental health crisis. Mike Albanese has more.

By Mike Albanese

Since the pandemic began, Kids Help Phone has had over 10 million calls from young Canadians, who are dealing with mental health crises, and it’s left the organization calling it a mental health crisis.

“Right now youth in Canada are in crisis,” said Katherine Hay, President and CEO of Kids Help Phone. “We were in a mental health crisis before, and today as we come out the other side of the pandemic, we know that the mental health crisis and the equity gap are even more significant.”

Hay says in 2019, Canadians between the ages of 5 and 28 reached out just under 2 million times. From 2020 to now, 14 million times. Hay says war, trauma, social and racial injustice, climate change and bullying are weighing on youths’ mental well-being.

Psychologist Dr. Debra Pepler says it’s paramount that people speak up about problems they’re facing, especially a problem many young people face, bullying.

“If any of us think about how we walk through our days, relationships are among the most important processes. Our contexts for living as a human being,” said Pepler.

She says reports of bullying victimization actually went down when kids were at home during the pandemic, but will be rising again now that in-person learning has resumed.


Biostatistics professor Depeng Jiang at the University of Manitoba was part of Pepler’s bullying study, and found a direct connection between being a bully and future adverse behaviour.

“If you are an early bullier, in the future you are more likely following what we call an increase in delinquency trajectory, so the delinquency level in behaviour increases over time,” explained Jiang.

Dr. Jiang says being a bully was linked to higher odds of criminality, substance use, mental disorders and increased rates of hospitalization.

Dr. Pepler says U.K. studies show getting bullied, can lead to employment, relationship and mental health problems as well, even 40 years after the bullying takes place. She says it’s vital young people talk about the issues in their lives NOW.

“It’s extremely important that we give children the message that we’re here if they’re having those problems and that we respect them and see them as courageous for coming forward, and not seeing them as weak,” said Pepler.

Kids Help Phone has begun a fundraising campaign Thursday, to expand clinical service across Canada to youth-in-crisis, and create more virtual care options.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health; for youth, call Kids Helps Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or text WELLNESS to 686868. For adults, call 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 741741.

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