Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Sept 2, 2020 -- Malaysia has launched its first helpline dedicated to children’s mental health in response to the increased stress faced by the nation’s youths during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Buddy Bear helpline, launched by social enterprise HumanKind, lets children speak to professionally trained volunteers about social and emotional issues they may have, which can evolve into serious mental health problems if unaddressed.
Pam Guneratnam, Buddy Bear founder, said this helpline is uniquely designed to cater to children’s needs. It provides judgment-free space for callers, she said, with responders taught to respond with empathy.
She said all volunteers were vetted through numerous interviews, training sessions and background checks to ensure the callers’ safety.
Guneratnam said "children are usually brought into crisis centres by parents", usually due to behavioural difficulties. Buddy Bear provides children with the "agency to ask for help themselves".
A child and adolescent psychiatrist, who identified herself only as Anita, said the mental health crisis caused by extended isolation could become the next pandemic.
"All experts agree, we have not prepared for this," she said.
Anita said the physical lockdown and lack of social interaction with peers and teachers could manifest in the future as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other forms of mental illness.
"The psychological impacts will be huge, I can’t even fathom," she said.
She said parents must lead by example. "If we can’t take care of our own mental health, how do we expect our kids to learn?"
PH Wong, founder of Childline Foundation Malaysia, said this helpline would give children an invaluable avenue for seeking assistance as a last resort, but added that more needed to be done to minimise the number of cases.
"We have child protection policies, but we need to also invest in high-quality care and education services to prevent these problems in the first place."
She said better support networks should be established at home, in the community and in schools, so that these avenues are easily accessible to children.
The Buddy Bear helpline number can be reached at 1800 18 BEAR (2327) and is available everyday between noon and midnight. Volunteers speak English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Thursday, September 3, 2020
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