Psychology students offer support for struggling teens in Ukraine

A new project means that vulnerable teenagers are getting the support and advice they need.

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
20 April 2021

Psychology students in Ukraine are using online chats to help vulnerable teenagers to banish thoughts of suicide, bullying and anxiety.

The online counselling sessions last just an hour. But, for many of the teenagers, it may be the first time they have been heard, understood and offered advice from others.

Relationship problems are the main reason for calling. But counsellors also discuss bullying, HIV, sex, COVID-19, misunderstandings with parents and loneliness.

The consultations have been made possible thanks to Teenergizer movement, which brings together teenagers from the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. Teenergizer, with the support of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ING Bank, designs and implements projects for teenagers, provides awareness raising on HIV, physical and mental health.


Any teenager from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Georgia can apply for psychological help online, for free and confidentially.

“We want teenagers to feel that the consultants are like close friends, ready to help with advice,” says Sasha Pylypenko, 19, one of the counsellors.

Peer-to-peer support

Sasha, a psychology student from Bila Tserkva, first learned about the project at her university a year and a half ago, when organizers were recruiting volunteer consultants. She immediately liked the idea of peer-to-peer support.

“All the consultants in the project are boys and girls, students studying psychology,” she says. “We differ from our clients only in that we have specialized knowledge and we receive trainings. But we have the same problems.”


Sasha has led hundreds of consultations. But she still remembers the intensity of her first shifts.

“We received a message from a boy who, due to unrequited love, had thoughts of suicide. I talked with him for three hours until late at night, referred him to specialists and, most importantly, let him talk. We ended our conversation when he calmed down a bit.”

As well as Sasha, there are 30 other consultants who have been trained by professional psychologists, each running sessions three times a month. They can often process up to 60 requests from teenagers per day.

Dealing with lockdown stress

Sasha’s colleague and fellow psychology student, 21-year-old Olia Kaira, often advises teenagers on breathing meditation, art therapy, and intense stress-relieving techniques. She says that even jumping or beating a pillow can help to relieve negative emotions.

“In the lockdown, there are much more negative emotions, and now there are much more requests for consultations,” says Olia, who joined the project just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Youngsters who use the service range in age, from 13 to 25. But over the last year, one thing they have in common is the anxiety caused by COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions. The number of consultations has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to UNICEF, at least one in seven children worldwide have lived in mandatory or recommended nationwide self-isolation for at least nine months since the onset of COVID-19. This has impacted the mental health and well-being of young people.


“Teenagers notice that there is little motivation in their environment, they cannot find something to their liking,” explains Sasha. “At the same time, they have problems with their parents with whom they constantly stay at home during isolation.”

In addition to psychological advice, consultants provide teens with information about online courses, competitions and opportunities for doing something they like.

“On one hand, it is alarming that there are more requests, but on the other hand, it is good that the teenagers started thinking that their mental condition is also a matter of health,” says Olia. “If you have COVID, you go to see a doctor. And, if due to the lockdown you cannot cope with depressive thoughts, do not hesitate to seek help from a specialist.”


A safe haven

Teenergizer has become popular with teenagers as a free, anonymous and safe platform for communication.

“The information they write to us never goes beyond the chat,” says Sasha.

The maximum waiting time for a response is one day. But consultants always try to answer faster. All teenagers need is the internet, a telephone and the courage to ask for help.

“One small conversation gave me hope,” reads one review, while another proclaims: “Thank you, I have never been answered so quickly and sincerely.”

According to Sasha, it is the feedback that motivates her to continue. Next year, she hopes to open a small private practice.

“They tell us what they don’t tell anyone – neither their friends, nor their parents, nor their brothers, nor their sisters,” she says. “I often communicate with teenagers who do not have a specific problem, but who need to talk. They feel lonely. And such a small communication lasting for an hour can help a person overcome despondency and make him or her move on."


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