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Childline reports surge in calls and mental health counselling sessions over past year

Dr Kate Middleton

20 May, 2021


Thousands of young people met with Childline for counselling in the past year, seeking support with their mental and emotional health, or to talk about experiences of abuse.


Childline has reported figures on the high numbers of young people using its mental health counselling services during the pandemic. The charity also reported a surge in calls from concerned adults regarding the abuse and neglect of children. Childline said the amount of young people aged 11 and under using its service to talk about mental and emotional wellbeing grew significantly during the pandemic. Out of its 73,088 counselling sessions (about mental and emotional wellbeing) held from April 2020 to March 2021, 5,646 were with young people aged 11 or under, an increase of nearly a third (29%) on the previous year.

Counselling sessions about emotional abuse have also increased by 18%. In April Childline said calls to its helpline had surged by 23% on the previous year, and 47% of those calls led to referrals to external agencies (like the police or children’s services). Reports about adult health and behaviour (e.g. substance misuse, domestic abuse, wellbeing) grew by 42%, while reports of neglect, physical abuse and emotional abuse against children all increased.

Childline said it wanted “to see the government invest in a plan for children that goes beyond catching up on lessons and includes more mental health support both in the classroom and in the community”. The charity’s founder Dame Esther Rantzen, said: “Throughout this pandemic, children and young people have had to deal with so many difficult new challenges, many knowing that their families were struggling with health worries and financial issues, some locked down in unsafe homes, deprived of their schools which may have been their only refuge. Many have told Childline that they have struggled to cope and their mental health has suffered as a result.” Childline is holding Childhood Day on June 11 2021 to help celebrate childhood and raise awareness and support for the struggles and dangers that so many young people face.

Supporting young people and their wellbeing is paramount at Youthscape. This includes supporting those who struggle with self-harm (Alumina), and Headstrong, a programme that launched last year to help young people look after their wellbeing. Headstrong’s Kate Middleton, also Director of the Mind and Soul Foundation, offers her perspective below.


Comment from Kate Middleton, Project Director, Headstrong

"The COVID pandemic has been a unique time of unusual pressure and ever-changing circumstances for children, teenagers and young people. They’ve had to manage significant uncertainty, loss of control and choices, separation from their friends and the activities they usually enjoy, and the constant tension of possible isolation all alongside the pressures of continuing academic demands from school – including for many, exams and key transitions. On top of that, however, they have been exposed to a barrage of negativity in the news, media and social media, painting a grim future for their generation and focusing on the struggles without offering much in the way of hope or solutions.

"Statistics and anecdotes tell the same stories: of many struggling with anxiety, sadness, depression and despair. feeling overwhelmed by the challenges they face and struggling to look to a future full of continued uncertainty. We’ve seen significant increases in the rates of some mental health problems, including those linked with feeling out of control, such as eating disorders, and those linked to attempts to manage emotional overwhelm, such as self-harm.

"At Headstrong we want to tell a better story for this generation. We know times are tough but also that this is an amazing group of children and young people, full of capability, creativity and flexibility. There’s more to this story than the anxiety provoking stories we hear so much of – in fact around 1/4 of young people report life has been better during the pandemic and many have found new skills, resources and rhythms of life and brought energy and practical change which has inspired and supported other people as well as themselves.

"We’re committed to helping equip and support children, young people and those who work with them to manage the emotions that they’re experiencing, and to process what has happened in this pandemic. We’re here to help them dig deep, dream big and stand tall as they think to their future, and to create a space they can feel safe to share, ask questions and find answers and good information and advice, whatever challenges life is throwing at them."


Wellbeing resources

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you’re looking for tools that can help young people, here are some suggestions:

  • Headstrong's website: Full of videos, testimonies, games and resources aimed at young people
  • Alumina (formerly SelfharmUK) : Free online self-harm support for 14s-19s
  • Childline/NSPCC guidance: information and tools about mental health for families and young people can be found on their website
  • Wellbeing resources on the Youthscape Store: numerous games, guides, videos and journals to help reinforce healthy wellbeing.

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