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Unprecedented spike exposes heartbreaking trend among young Aussies

Children as young as 13 have sought help from the Kids Helpline.

It'll come as no surprise that Australia is in the midst of a serious mental health epidemic. With soaring cost of living pressures continuing to make life difficult for millions, support services have been run off their feet over the last three years providing help to the vulnerable, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With mental health struggles in adults well documented, our nation's young people have been suffering in silence. According to heartbreaking new data from the Kids Helpline, Aussie children are seeking support in unprecedented numbers, many citing suicidal thoughts when reaching out.

The research, released today, paints a grim picture of the lives of many kids around the country. It found that of the 4,608 duty of care interventions responded to between July 1, 2022, to June 30 of this year, 2,000 were "undertaken where young people were at immediate risk of suicide" and "required emergency intervention".

A child is seen beside a parent figure.
Kids Helpline is seeing a significant increase in suicide related contacts requiring an urgent “duty of care” responses. Source: Getty

Spike due to 'number of different factors'

Kids Helpline Manager Tony Fitzgerald told Yahoo News Australia that sadly, there's no one factor contributing to the steep rise, rather, the spike has been put down to a mix of circumstances that's left young people feeling helpless. He said often parents aren't even fully aware their child may be suffering.

"There's a number of different determinants in a young person's life that can take them to a point where they are contemplating suicide, and reaching out for help," Mr Fitzgerald told Yahoo.

"But what we do know is that the upward trend that we saw at the beginning of 2020 with Covid, has continued. We expected to see with Covid numbers dropping, it becoming less of an issue. We expected to see these (Helpline call) numbers drop, but they haven't."

While there may be a whole host of reasons a young person would seek support from professionals, there are recurring themes that continue to affect young people specifically.

"It could be their socioeconomic conditions, it could be what's happening in the schoolyard — there could be issues of bullying and abuse that are happening — it also could be down to issues like homelessness and drug use," Mr Fitzgerald said.

"Unfortunately, what we do know is that there are at-risk groups, certainly young people who identify as LGBTQIA+ and particularly young males. At the moment, there's data that's indicating there's been an increase in young female suicides as well.

"So there's a range of factors, you can't really put your finger on one, but there are vulnerable groups in our society that do seem to be more prone or have high incidences of suicide."

Kids seek help when they're alone, 'feel safe to do so'

Young people seeking help via the Kids Helpline tend to start reaching out at age 13, Mr Fitzgerald said, adding that it's often when children have time alone, away from their peers or parents, that they make contact.

"It's teenagers in early adulthood that are contacting us in relation to suicide," he said.

A distressed child is seen behind a laptop.
The Kids Helpline is experiencing an unprecedented level of calls for help. Source: Getty

"Most of the contact we get from children comes after hours, after normal business hours. That's when we tend to see that demand increase.

"Afternoon and into the early evening we usually see some spikes and then again mid-evening and towards the later end of the evening — but definitely after kids are finished school.

"What we do find is that young people will reach out to us when it's appropriate for them to do that, when they can do it fairly discreetly. And that tends to be not during the day, but after hours when they're at home potentially in their bedroom."

'It's okay not to be okay'

Mr Fitzgerald explained that it's important parents are communicating with their children, ensuring that they feel supported and heard and that "it's okay not to be okay".

"We must continue to encourage young people to reach out for help, to normalise and de-stigmatise mental health issues and suicide, and let young people understand that it's okay to not feel great," he said.

"It is relatively common for young people who don't feel comfortable talking about mental health with their parents to reach out to us first.

"It's really about providing a space where they feel like they're being listened to and for parents not to panic when their kids are talking about this kind of stuff — I think that's really important."

Young readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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