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The stress and isolation of COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of many Canadians. For children and youth living through the uncertainty of the crisis, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Fortunately, volunteers with Kids Help Phone are there to listen.

Kids Help Phone is a pioneer in virtual care. As the only 24/7 national e-mental health service in Canada, it has been connecting young people with counselors or crisis responders for over thirty years. Through the power of technology and the unshakable force of its compassionate volunteers, Kids Help Phone reached 1.9 million young people last year. This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is proving to be an essential outlet for young people to share their concerns, anxieties and feelings with someone who is always there to listen.

Lynda Clarke has been a volunteer with Kids Help Phone for almost a year, working as a Crisis Responder with the text line. She found out about the text line through RBC, when there was a call for volunteers. The opportunity felt right for her immediately. “I have always had a passion for youth. This was definitely something for me to do,” she says about her role with the charity.

Using an online platform, Lynda answers texts that come in from young people across Canada – from as young as five years old to young adults up to age 27. Clarke texts with them about a range of issues – from anxiety and depression to bullying and substance abuse — all the way through to very acute suicide and self-harm conversations.

“Texting is amazing because it’s a great way young people — wherever they are — can chat with somebody online, says Clarke.” Providing an extra cover of anonymity, texting allows for youth to share more deeply and with more freedom. Fellow RBC volunteer Moriah Christoff says that texting allows them to reach out whenever, wherever they are, without anyone in their household even knowing what they’re doing.

“Kids Help Phone has evolved as young people have evolved,” explains Katherine Hay, CEO of Kids Help Phone. “The texting platform enables us to use AI and machine learning to respond to texts as they come in based on their severity. Because young people cannot wait. We want to be there in the moment and technology has enabled us to do that.”

The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth – and the Silver Lining

These days, Canadian youth are dealing with many of the same issues as before the pandemic. But the impact of COVID-19 is significant for many, which is evident in the exponential demand on service over the last few weeks. With 40 per cent of conversations centered around the effects of the pandemic, Kids Help Phone is seeing a huge increase in anxiety and stress, plus an increase in worries about abuse.

But for Katherine Hay, the news is not all bad. For one, the texting channel allows for private, silent conversations that may have been impossible in difficult home situations previously. Plus, there is great hope and optimism in the fact that Kids Help Phone is getting the calls and texts in the first place.

“While it might sound a bit disconcerting about the mental health challenges, I see great positivity in the fact that not only are young people reaching out, they are building their own help-seeking mechanism for reaching out. The great silver lining is that we are there at the other end of the phone or text, whenever they need us. Whether it’s two in the morning or two in the afternoon, the young people of Canada are never alone because we’re here,” says Hay.

“Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle”

When asked what motivates her to volunteer with Kids Help Phone, Lynda Clarke exclaims that she has a millennial mind in a boomer body. “Even though I’m older, I will never forget what it was like when I was a teenager and all the different situations that I went through. No matter how old I am, I will never forget what it feels like.”

Her connection with young people is just one of the reasons that she feels such gratitude for being able to do virtual volunteer work — that she can be there for the kids.

“I send these kids virtual hugs. I tell them: ‘Don’t let anything dull your sparkle.’ I let them know that there is hope for them.”

Clarke admits, however, that the work can take its toll. Given the anonymity of the service, volunteers never really know if they had an impact on the youth they speak with. They therefore need to come to terms with these moments of uncertainty and just help as best as they can. “It is both rewarding and draining at the same time,” she says. “But if I’m not there, who are they going to turn to?”

Having a passion for youth and personal strength are therefore key attributes of a Kids Help Phone volunteer. Nonetheless, supervisors and coaches urge regular self-care, and an outlet for conversation and advice at any time. Because this job isn’t easy.

Kids Help Phone is currently training more than 6,000 Canadians, including some RBC employees, to meet the demand of kids across the country. Says Hay: “That’s how I know the future of our Canadian youth is really bright. Silver linings are shiny because we have all these people who are stepping up.”

If you are interested in signing up to become a volunteer crisis text responder, please click here.

In addition to providing RBC employee volunteers, RBC and RBC Foundation have been supporting Kids Help Phone’s mission to support young people immediately and into the future, building on their longstanding partnership of 30 years:

  • May, 2020: RBC Foundation, as part of RBC Future Launch, committed $1.3 million to Kids Help Phone* to launch an integrated platform for its texting, live chat and phone services, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to triage users by the severity of their need.
  • May, 2020: RBC has enabled clients to donate their RBC Rewards points to Kids Help Phone and Food Banks Canada until August 2020. In addition, RBC Rewards will match all points donations made by clients in the month of May.
  • April, 2020: Demi Lovato, Royal Bank of Canada, Virgin Unite, Canadian Family Foundations and Draper Richards Kaplan announce the launch of The Mental Health Fund, with anchor funding of $2 million, to help individuals in pain from the mental health and behavioral impact of the coronavirus. To meet the increased demand of people in pain, Crisis Text Line, Shout UK, Kids Help Phone, and, have come together to work with The Mental Health Fund.

Watch the video to hear more about how Lynda Clarke and other RBC volunteers are supporting Canada’s youth.

RBC employees and clients from across the country have been stepping up to face the COVID-19 crisis with courage, generosity and compassion. Discover other stories of how the RBC community is making a meaningful difference during this difficult time.

*RBC Future Launch is RBC’s commitment to empower Canadian youth for the jobs of tomorrow. RBC is dedicating $500 million to help young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services.