Teens feeling trapped in lockdown turn to helpline for support
A team of psychologists are supporting vulnerable teenagers across eastern Ukraine as lockdown takes its toll on mental health, relationships and education
Psychologist Maryna has lost count of how many calls she and her team of specialists have received since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine. But she cannot forget the callers.
“It was like an avalanche," says Maryna. “Family arguments, violence, loneliness of the elderly and adolescents are all consequences of self-isolation."
The expert has been working with a mobile team of psychologists for five years. But since lockdown, they have redoubled their efforts, expanding across eastern Ukraine and extending their working hours with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), funded by the United States Government.
"We understand how important it is for children and adolescents to be heard".
While lockdown and self-isolation are necessary to contain COVID-19, they have also catalyzed family conflicts and increased the incidence of domestic violence worldwide. According to UNICEF, the incidence of violence in Ukraine has tripled since the beginning of the year, and the number of cases of violence against children has doubled.
“It is good that such mobile teams started working, because people need help,” explains Maryna. "It is vital to talk to someone.”
Trapped at home with an aggressor
Children and adolescents who have found themselves unable to socialize and under pressure to learn remotely have started calling for help more often.
“Sometimes children call just to talk," says Maryna. “The parents are at work, the grandmother is sick, and the child is constantly alone in the apartment and suffers."
Earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl called Valia called the helpline. Her home life had taken a turn for the worse, after her mother lost her job and her step-father began harassing her. On the evening that she called, Valia had run away from home and had nowhere else to turn.
“I am in great pain, my mother does not hear or understand me, I feel unwanted," the youngster told Maryna when she answered the phone. "She was generally okay before, never drank, loved me. But now she doesn’t care about me."
“The girl repeatedly tried to talk to her mother, tried to earn her attention, helping her around the house, doing good deeds, but she did not notice her in return," recalls Maryna. “Her mother began to shun her and then openly accused the girl of interfering with her personal happiness."
As her home life deteriorated, Valia began to clash with friends and developed psychosomatic disorders. The situation was further exacerbated by a pandemic that forced her to spend time at home with an aggressive stepfather who continued to drink alcohol and harass her.
Finding help and hope
Valia learned about the helpline from the mother of a friend. With one call, everything changed.
First, Maryna gave her time to cry. Then, she helped her to breathe deeply, discussed the problem and considered possible solutions for a long time. The next morning, Maryna received a message from Valia with a heart-shaped emoticon.
“I thought well of what you told me,” the message read. "Thank you, I’m back home.”
At home, Valia talked to her mother again, telling her about the stepfather’s harassment. The mother believed her daughter, divorced her aggressive husband and eventually stopped drinking.
“This man was later put in jail," adds Maryna. "This threat is gone. It was also a great victory for us that the girl’s mother also got in touch with the team’s psychologists. The girl and her mother’s case is now managed by a mobile team and they are trying to understand each other. And the woman has found a job."
Family life has improved and Valia has started making plans for the future again.
“Valia’s message that she did not follow a destructive path, but decided to return home, warmed my soul," says Maryna, with a smile. “Psychologists in our team love their work at such moments. That’s why we don’t turn off our phones during the lockdown, even at night. We understand how important it is for children and adolescents to be heard.”