Pouring your heart out to Psychology student Mijke: ‘You can tell us anything’
Young people call the hotline to talk about the most diverse subjects, from being stressed about an upcoming test to having an unrequited crush on someone, or not feeling confident about their looks. "They call us either because they feel as though they can't talk to their friends about their problem, or because they prefer to share it with a stranger first," the fourth-year student tells us at the Alles Oké? call centre in Utrecht. "So calling us is a great option."
The Alles Oké? hotline was launched earlier this year as a "big sister" to Kindertelefoon, a hotline for kids aged 8 to 18. The need for a similar service focused on young people aged 18 to 24 became more and more evident. "After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, more young adults began calling the Kindertelefoon to ask questions or talk about things that were bothering them," explains Jetta Roozeboom, spokesperson for Alles Oké?. Approximately 10,000 young people have used the hotline so far. The service is bilingual (Dutch and English) and you can call it any day of the week, anonymously and free of charge. An online chat service is also available.
Research conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS in the Dutch acronym) has confirmed that young people's mental health deteriorated during the pandemic. Around 25 percent of them reported not being "psychologically healthy" in the first semester of 2021, an increase of 10 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, the research has shown that young people are more likely than other age groups to feel restless, depressed, and unhappy.
"Young people didn't have much to look forward to during the Covid-19 crisis. They had to postpone some milestones in their lives," says Roozeboom. "The problems that already played out among young people only got magnified during lockdown. Right now, we've been getting less calls about the pandemic. Most of them are about problems that young people always tend to have."
Talking about your worries can be a huge relief, stresses Mijke, who has been working for the hotline for seven months. "You can call us to talk about anything. Sometimes, young people feel as though their problems aren't serious enough to require a conversation with someone else. Some of them feel the opposite: that their problems are too severe. But it's always good to discuss them with somebody."
First, Mijke listens to the callers' problems. Then, she asks them what they would like to achieve with the conversation. Sometimes the caller just wants to vent a bit. "Venting can be really, really helpful for students feeling overwhelmed and worried that they will not manage all the things happening in their study."
Whenever possible, Mijke tries to put the situation into perspective. "To someone who feels insecure at parties or social gatherings, I usually say that they are probably not the only ones feeling this way. Maybe there are even other people feeling like that at the same party," says the volunteer. "Then, I ask them what they think would help them feel better, just to get them thinking."
A shoulder to cry on
But the line is also used by young people with heavy traumas or psychological problems. According to Mijke, some are already seeing a shrink, but Alles Oké? helps them in a different way. "They just don't feel like talking to a therapist at that moment. They would like to tell their stories to someone their age. A therapist would carry out the conversation in a very different way."
Mijke states that the hotline's principle is to offer young people a shoulder to cry on, without judging them. "People have the tendency of immediately offering a tip or piece of advice. 'You should do this or that, because that's what helped me.' But just listening and reflecting on what the caller is telling you already goes a long way. It makes them feel truly heard."
Figuring out who you are
Many of the people who call or chat with Alles Oké? are university students. "I've noticed that I can understand where some callers are coming from much faster than others, because our lives are similar," notes Mijke. "Study-related stress and certain insecurities are relatable to me, as I also see people around me having the same problems. Those are issues at play when you're still young and figuring out who you are."
To Mijke, volunteering for Alles Oké? means that she can give young people a little push in the right direction. "I notice when someone is emotional and tense at the beginning of our conversation, but then sounds relieved upon hanging up. You can really mean a lot to someone with a half-our call."