Young people's mental and social distress in times of international crises: Evidence from helpline calls, 2019-2023
We document mental and social distress of children, adolescents and adults in times of crisis, using data on 3.7 million helpline calls between January 2019 and February 2023. Detailed and high-frequency data from crisis helpline logs offer rich information on the evolution of distress among the most vulnerable. They represent a unique measure of "revealed distress", unaffected by researchers' study design and framing. Revealed distress of adults, measured by the volume of calls, rose significantly after both the outbreak of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In contrast, the overall revealed distress of children and adolescents has not increased during those crises. The nature of young people's concerns, however, changed more strongly than for adults, with conversations shifting from problems with school and peers to family and mental health problems. Call topics of young people shifted from problems with school and peers towards problems with family and mental health. We find the share of severe mental-health problems among young people to have increased with a delay, in the second and third year of the pandemic.