Closed shops and schools, people working from home, homeschooling, no meet-ups with friends and no relief to the monotony. The months of lockdown were a challenge for many people, whether that was due to loneliness and social isolation or – on the flipside – too much close confinement with others. Also, many parents were at their limit trying to juggle homeschooling with working from home. Not everyone was able to handle it well. And not everyone had someone to turn to.
There are helplines or advice platforms for such situations, where people who are at their wits’ end can get anonymous advice and support. As part of our COVID-19 aid program, our firm provided financial support to services offered in Switzerland by the “Die Dargebotene Hand” and “pro mente sana” helplines as well as two services offered by Pro Juventute (a foundation for young people) – the 147 emergency helpline for children and teenagers and the organization's parental advice line. Thanks to the financial aid all could extend their services during a time where the number of people contacting them rose.
New challenges, new channels
Thomas Brunner of Pro Juventute says the need for advice increased across the board. Not by telephone, however, but through other channels. “This can be explained mainly by social confinement and lack of privacy. Everyone was stuck at home. Using the telephone without being interrupted or overheard was not that easy,” Brunner says. So, in place of calls, Pro Juventute recorded the sharpest increase in advice offered via SMS, email and chat. “In particular via chat, the demand rose by 167% compared with last year,” he adds.
Children and teenagers were negatively affected by being separated from their friends and some suffered domestic violence. In March and April, however, sleep disorders were also an important topic. “The parental counseling was mainly utilized by parents of school-age children and teenagers, who were simply overwhelmed by the situation,” explains Thomas Brunner.
Activating callers' own resources
Advice is given anonymously, and, as in “normal” times, the focus is on the emotional stabilization of the callers. “Basically, we try to activate the caller’s own resources and try to find solutions together with them. Finally, we always ask ‘Is there anything else I can do to help?’” says Brunner. Most people find that just talking has already helped them. In other cases, Pro Juventute refers the service users to other agencies. In extreme cases, emergency services are also alerted.
The diversity of advice sought by callers in times of COVID-19 demonstrated that many were affected by these problems. “The youngest were ten-year-olds, and there was a mix across all layers of society and from all parts of the country,” reports Brunner. “You really could say everyone was represented.”
UBS in Switzerland has been supporting various organizations cushion the immediate effects of the pandemic by providing financial support or online volunteering. Alongside providing basic care for people on the margins of society, one important area of support is mental health and resilience.
In Switzerland, Pro Juventute offers round-the-clock anonymous help and advice to children, teenagers and adults in emergency situations.