Teenage peer-to-peer counselling service offers lifeline to youngsters in Ukraine
An online counselling service for teenagers has made the world of difference to one youngster who struggled to cope with grief.
After the sudden death of her father, Stefania did not know where to turn. At the age of just 17, she found it difficult to discuss her grief with loved ones and spent much of her days confined to the kitchen, scared to be alone but unable to open up.
Then, she remembered the online peer-to-peer counselling service from Teenergizer movement.
“It was Teenergizer that became my first lifeline,” recalls Stefania, who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine. “I was able to grab onto it and understand that I was not alone after all.”
Since its launch in 2019, Teenergizer has helped thousands of youngsters from Eastern Europe and Central Asia through online counselling sessions provided by volunteers. All of its consultations are free, thanks to support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ING Bank.
“When it got really hard, I turned to Teenergizer”
Stefania first heard about the project from her sister four years ago.
“My sister participated in a roundtable on sexual health initiated by the United Nations and Teenergizer,” she says. “I heard that teenagers themselves provided assistance to other teenagers. I thought it was cool and I needed to learn more about them.”
Counsellors aim to respond to help requests within one hour. They are always ready to talk about any topic, including bullying, sexual health and loneliness.
“Try to think about the future”
“When my father passed away, I decided not to tell anyone, because I was afraid that they would judge me,” says Stefania. “But the consultants helped me cope with this fear.”
Stefania’s peer counsellor encouraged her to focus on hobbies in the days following her father’s death, as a way of receiving the emotional stress. She was also advised to open up to her loved ones, giving herself and them the opportunity to speak out and cry.
Now Stefania feels strong enough to cope with her loss and encourages others who may be struggling to seek similar support. She knows what a difference it can make.
“In such a situation, you need to give yourself time,” she says. “Allow yourself to live your feelings without pushing them away, but at the same time, to not go into grief and depression, but to try to think about the future.”
UNICEF and Teenergizer have been running the peer-to-peer counselling program since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, counsellors have conducted more than 12,000 sessions to support adolescents seeking help.
“Amid COVID restrictions and a disruption of routine, adolescents’ mental health has become more vulnerable, and they face increased risks of depression, anxiety and other disorders,” says UNICEF Adolescent Development Officer Liliya Lyubomudrova. "It is much less likely that adolescents seek professional mental health support services, compared to adults. We needed to offer them services in the friendly space they know, conducted by peers. Still, online counselling is an entry point on a long road to mental wellbeing. When needed, they are always referred to professional response services and mechanisms.”