Sad trend among Aussie kids each day from 4pm

Elisa Benbow tells Yahoo News Australia what's behind the huge increase in Aussie kids reaching out for help with their mental health.

As the rate of young Australians seeking help with their mental health skyrockets to new heights, peer support workers say they're worried they won't be able to meet demand, with "queues" on hotlines forming each day at 4pm from callers as young as 10.

Worrying new data released this week by Kids Helpline, a division of charity Yourtown, revealed the rate in which Australian children and young people are reaching out with suicidal thoughts, has doubled in five years from 825 incidents in 2019 to 1,706 in 2023.

In addition, the research found there's been a jaw-dropping 223 per cent increase in the rate at which young LGBTQ+ Aussies, in particular trans and gender diverse kids, had reached out for help with regard to their mental health. Those figures have jumped from 2,415 accounts in 2019 to 7,796 in 2023. Yourtown counsellor Elisha Benbow said she's personally noticed a steep rise in young people calling out for help, and in particular young boys.

Elisha Benbow, pictured centre in a group of three, is from Kids Helpline.
Elisha Benbow from Kids Helpline, centre, is among a growing number of Aussies taking calls from young people struggling with their mental health. Source: Supplied

Concerning trend among nation's youth

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Benbow, 35, explained there is a number of reasons behind the increase, something she notices daily at 4pm when traffic on the helpline peaks. "When it hits 4pm — it's on," Benbow told Yahoo.

"It's a time when most kids across most states will be home from school... the phones get busy, the web queue gets really busy, then it just steadily gets busier throughout the night as well. And that's pretty common across any night of the week.

"We get a lot of calls around relationships and general wellbeing, and there's been a big increase in suicide calls in the last couple of years, definitely. More specifically with queer youth, it's very much been a lot of coming out journeys, a lot around gender identity and expression. A lot of kids call about bullying, they experience bullying because they're a part of the rainbow community."

Huge proportion of calls for help from primary school-aged kids

Of the calls Benbow takes, a huge proportion are primary school-aged kids, she recalled. She said those calls can be particularly disturbing to hear. "We do get a lot of primary school aged kids calling, it's the biggest group we get after high schoolers," she said.

"There's a lot of really heavy calls that we get, it's not uncommon as a Kids HelpLine counsellor that you go through a shift at work and you'll have at least one pretty heavy one — as in, it's about safety, a young person might not be safe when you're talking to them.

A generic image of a child on the phone, as reports of Aussie kids struggling with their mental health soar.
Children as young as 10 regularly reach out for help, with calls even been taken from five year olds. Source: Getty

"Maybe their home life isn't very safe, it could be that they're going through domestic and family violence, it could be that they've been sexually assaulted. That they're experiencing ongoing bullying at school, there's a lot of elements that can be really difficult to hear."

LGBTQ+, Indigenous Australians among worst affected by crisis

According to the results from the Kids Helpline 2023 Impact Report, mental health and emotional wellbeing was the top concern for all children surveyed — some 122,000 — aged 5 to 25 years of age. The report also highlighted an upward trend in suicide-related concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children over the past five years, indicating there'd been a 161 per cent increase in demand for services.

Worrying stats not all bad, peer worker says

Of the total crisis interventions, 44 per cent or 1,706 were related to suicide attempts, up from 37 per cent in 2022. Benbow says however, that while these statistics might be worrying to read, they're not all bad. The social worker believes that nowadays young people are becoming more comfortable talking about their mental health and issues affecting them.

She added that Yourtown services had also increased in accessibility in recent times, meaning that in doing so, more people are using them, resulting in larger portions of kids reached.

"So we're expanding in terms of having more officers getting more counsellors, having more reach and stretch," Benbow said, adding that she would've significantly benefited from such a service in her own youth. "That would have helped me immensely," she said. "If I had access to that mental health support.

"Mental health is something we care for the rest of our life. Kids knowing from a younger age, how to manage their emotions, how to care for their mental health, how to ask for help, how to have a voice to and feel an autonomy over themselves — that's just so empowering."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, find help by calling 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

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