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Youth help lines, aid services busy in summer

Mental health and other welfare services in Finland do not take time off for the holidays, and help lines are often jammed during the summer. The number of young people who contact aid organisations due to mental health problems such as depression has more than doubled in recent years.

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Summer isn't all fun and games for many of Finland's children. Image: AOP

Many public health and aid services – such as youth outreach programmes, women's shelters and substance abuse prevention centres – keep their doors and lines open during the summer as well, and it is a busy time of year for staffers.

As schools, psychiatrist's offices and other sources of support shut down for the summer months, young people and teenagers especially may feel the sting of loneliness.

"Attending school can serve as a support system for some children, a place to meet with people and find help," says Heidi Holappa of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL). "When services are shuttered in summer, some kids may be all alone with their own problems and concerns for months."

MLL replies to children in need via phone, chat messages or email about 30,000 times a year. Often the phone rings non-stop during the service's operating hours, as kids and teens can contact the group anonymously, confidentially and for free.

Mental health-related concerns doubled

Holappa says that about one fifth of the calls the Mannerheim League receives have to do with issues of mental health such as depression, anxiousness or abuse.

"Young people are more likely to contact us via the internet, where the threshold for asking for help is lower. Cases may include domestic physical or mental abuse, or the child may simply feel they do not receive the kind of support they need to make it through the day," Holappa says.

Since 2010, the number of calls or messages received by MLL relating to mental health issues has more than doubled, pointing to a continuing trend of mental distress among young people in Finland.

Shelters and centres

The offices and locations of the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters are also open in the summer months, around the clock in fact. The shelters are intended for people who feel unsafe, threatened or abused in their own home – usually due to spousal abuse.

"The shelters are available to people for as long as the crisis lasts, usually anywhere from a few days to a few months," says expert Johanna Matikka from the federation. "Making sure the witnesses or victims of violence, adult and child alike, are safe is the top priority, as is ensuring that the violent behaviour comes to an end."

The Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention (EHYT) provides a similar service, though based on prevention rather than care. Community centres offering daily papers to read, snacks and coffee as well as computers with free wi-fi are open to everyone year round – as long as customers come in sober and without any illicit substances.

The centres, called Elokolo, can be found in about half a dozen locations, mainly in Southern Finland.

"Having low-threshold meeting places like these gives people the chance to be involved, become part of a community and receive understanding. It also helps prevent problems escalating into crises," says EHYT adult service chief Antti Hytti.

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