Photo: Colourbox

Health & wellbeing

The Mannerheim League for Child Welfare's annual report for 2023 has shed light on a disturbing trend affecting Finland's youngest generation. Over 20,000 children and teenagers reached out for help through the League's phone, chat, and online letter services, revealing a troubling pattern of mental abuse inflicted by adults. Nearly one-fifth of these communications were centered around mental health concerns, frequently linked to familial strife and maltreatment experiences, underscoring the need for holistic family support rather than focusing solely on the symptoms of the youth.

The conversations that took place in 2023 often revolved around themes of longing for adult presence, loneliness in daily life, and concerns regarding personal mental wellbeing. Alarmingly, many of these young individuals spoke about experiencing various forms of psychological violence from parents or other close adults, including insults, belittlement, guilt-tripping, manipulation, and even threats or episodes of uncontrollable anger.

Anna Weckström, a specialist overseeing the helplines and digital services, highlighted the importance of supporting the entire family unit to address these issues effectively. The report indicates a growing concern for the wellbeing of Finland's youth and recognizes the need for developing services tailored to their specific needs. However, it also points out that many of the problems faced by children and young people stem from internal family dynamics rather than individual issues.

Tatjana Pajamäki, head of the support services, stressed that the children reaching out could often identify the abusive behaviors but felt powerless to change their situations. This sense of isolation is exacerbated by parental actions that undermine their wellbeing, making it clear that interventions focusing solely on the child or teenager's symptoms are insufficient. Parents play a crucial role in their children's mental health services, and their involvement must be considered in the support process.

Furthermore, the report mentions that many young people have been prevented by their parents from seeking help for mental health issues. Enhancing awareness and building trust with parents are deemed crucial for promoting youth mental health.

The mental violence experienced by children within their families is a severe issue, leading to feelings of worthlessness, depression, hopelessness, and behavioral changes. The MLL emphasizes the need for preventive and timely support to mitigate these problems and reduce the time required for correction. Recommendations include strengthening and ensuring resources for counseling and family counseling centers, acknowledging the impact of parental roles on child wellbeing in mental health service development, sharing information about available services with parents, and integrating support into families' daily lives as seamlessly as possible. Peer support among families and parents, facilitated through initiatives like MLL's family cafés and parent peer support groups, is highlighted as a valuable preventive resource that should be structurally supported within wellbeing regions.