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Children's Helpline fields calls about parental alcohol abuse over Easter holiday

Volunteers from the MLL charity's Helpline service say many children phoned or sent messages about their parents' excessive alcohol use over the four-day Easter weekend in Finland.

Opiskelija välitunnilla.
Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Parental alcohol use was a topic of concern for several children this Easter weekend, according to the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL), Finland's largest child welfare NGO.

Among its many services, MLL runs a free Helpline service that young people can access by phone, internet or a chat provider from 5 pm to 8 pm. The help line provides children with counselling in whatever might be bothering them. Volunteers offer empathy, assistance and advice.

"We have listened to children whose parents' alcohol use over the holidays began to be a stressor for them. In some cases, the children's or young people's lives were overshadowed by alcohol for several days," says the MLL help line's director Tatjana Pajamäki.

Other young people called the service to talk about being teased at school.

"Serious issues from young people's lives bother these kids over the holidays, too. Holidays don't give them a break from these concerns," Pajamäki says.

Building trust first

Lighter conversations, where the children just call to have someone to talk to, often move on to something more serious eventually.

"Kids don't open up to adults they don't know right away, even if they have pressing worries or crises they would like to talk about. They need time to build up some trust, in peace, at their own pace. Suddenly, in the middle of a light conversation, there's a chance they will reveal anything at all," Pajamäki says.

The MLL Helpline for Children and Youth has been in operation in Finland since the 1980s. Programme Director Pajamäki says the discussion topics that are covered in the service have become much more serious since 2010. 

"Calls about depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts have doubled." she says.

Helping over 35,000 kids

Figures from MLL's 2015 annual report show that the Helpline for Children and Youth fielded over 32,000 phone calls, close to 2,000 internet messages and over 1,300 chat discussions from children in that year – the most recent year from which statistics are available.

The main topics of the calls were loneliness and depression (47 percent), questions about sex and sexuality (22 percent) and peer relationships (6 percent).

The MLL charity runs a similar Helpline support service for parents as well.

The phone number for the MLL Helpline for Children and Youth is 116 111, and the online counselling services for children can be found here. The phone number for the MLL Parent Helpline is 0800 92277 and the web equivalent can be found here. The services are in Finnish, but there is a good chance the volunteers will speak some English.

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