Meet Sarah Van Bentum: Reminding us That Talking Helps

Recently, Melburnians returned to the outside world after enduring 262 days of lockdown, the longest stay-at-home restrictions since the pandemic hit, that also included a 112 day marathon last year. NSW residents are also in the midst of a roadmap out of lockdown. As a result of these periods of lockdown and remote learning, counsellors and helpline services across Australia are speaking to more and more young people who are struggling and battling through these limited ways of life.

Our blog editor, Jacqui Taylor, speaks to NSW Service Manager at Kids Helpline, Sarah Van Bentum, to explore why this is happening to our kids and most importantly, how we can help.

Hello Sarah, thanks for taking the time for a conversation on this difficult topic. Firstly, for those who are not familiar what is Kids Helpline and who are you helping?
Kids Helpline is a free online counselling service for young people. We have a wide profile of callers, aged between five and 25 years old, across Australia that call the helpline. 

It is widely known that there has been an increase in anxiety amongst children and teens due to the consecutive lockdowns. What changes have you witnessed at Kids Helpline since lockdowns commenced?
We’ve seen a troublesome spike in calls, with over 10,000 young people contact the service in one week.

With lockdown we are seeing young people call around the difficulties faced through homeschooling. Things like a lack of motivation, an uncanny sense of guilt of not being able to perform under these circumstances, and adults are experiencing similar difficulties.

We are seeing an increase in young people call across Australia, with difficulties in the home navigating dynamics, lack of privacy, increase of conflict in the home.

We have seen an increase in reports from young people struggling with difficulties at home including physical violence but also the simple things the impact of a lack of milestones, grieving the loss of socialisation, not being able to be with their friends.

What is your advice to young people who may be suffering in silence, experiencing confusion or struggling in anyway?
We’ve got trained professional counsellors on our webchat ready to go. We really encourage normalising help seeking. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Young people especially need to be encouraged to ask for help. There is nothing braver than to say ‘hey, I’m not doing ok and I really need some help’. Contact the service, talk to a friend, take the time to reflect on their feelings, write things down or speak to a trusted adult. But not relying on themselves if they are not feeling OK, ask for help.

Moving forward Future Folk are partnering with Kids Helpline and donating five per cent of sales.

If you wish to seek help, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.