Five Years of Youth Engagement with Kids Help Phone Canada (Part 1): Phone, Chat, Text, and Peer-to-Peer Service Usage Nationally, Provincially, and Over Time

Telemed J E Health. 2023 Sep 12. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2023.0071. Online ahead of print.


Background: Child and youth mental health problems represent a substantial burden of illness in Canada, with appropriate services only inconsistently available. Charitable organizations, such as Kids Help Phone (KHP), are, therefore, crucial to filling system gaps by offering 24/7 phone, chat, texting, and peer-to-peer services. Methods: We describe the services provided by KHP, the volume of use for each service, and compare usage across Canada's provinces and territories for a 5-year period from January 2018 to December 2022. Trends seen during the COVID-19 pandemic are highlighted. Results: More than 1.5 million total number of conversations were held across texting, chat, and phone services over 5 years. Considerable growth is demonstrated between 2018 and 2022, and many of the highest peaks in volume occurred in March or April of 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The highest proportional volumes were consistently from the northern territories. Discussion: KHP cannot provide specialized or repeat services, nor can it alone meet the scale of unmet youth mental health needs across the country. Nonetheless, KHP plays a pivotal role in the Canadian mental health system. Efforts to understand the role that KHP and other e-mental health services like it play within the national mental health landscape should be intensified to aid in understanding unmet needs, identify system gaps, and make needed enhancements.

Keywords: COVID-19; e-mental health; health system; helplines; telemedicine; youth mental health.