Childline receives thousands of contacts over suicidal thoughts and self-harm

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Emotional health problems, including suicidal thoughts and self-harm, were among the main reasons for children and young people contacting Childline during the past 12 months.

The free support service provided 250,281 counselling sessions online and via telephone in 2018/19, 45 per cent of which (109,000) related to issues of emotional health and wellbeing.

Of these, almost 25,000 sessions included problems of suicidal thoughts, while almost 13,500 referred to self-harm.

These two issues feature prominently in the list of the top 10 reasons for calls from young people in 2018/19:

  1. Mental and emotional health, including anxiety (71,283 sessions).
  2. Family relationships and conflict (26,471).
  3. Suicidal thoughts and feelings (24,446).
  4. Bullying, online or face-to-face (15,851).
  5. Self-harm (13,406).
  6. Friendship issues (12,331).
  7. Sex, relationships, puberty or sexual health (12,331).
  8. School/education problems (10,029).
  9. Sexual abuse, including online abuse (8,841).
  10. Physical abuse (6,593).

However, the report reveals that counselling sessions relating to issues of suicidal thoughts and self-harm were much more likely to involve girls than boys (25,860 compared to 4,392). They were also more likely to be issues for children aged 12 to 18.

Elsewhere, Childline’s report points out other notable concerns, including more than 5,100 counselling sessions about loneliness, more than 5,900 sessions about confidence issues, and the 19,800 sessions where a child or young person’s main concern was abuse (this includes sexual, physical or emotional abuse and neglect). There were 4,500 counselling sessions about child sexual exploitation.

As well as the telephone line, the Childline website received 3.5 million visits, with the top three topics on its message boards being sex and sexual health, self-harm and relationships.

In her foreword to the annual report, Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen said: “Childline has seen a major shift over the past 33 years. In 1986 the chief concerns were actions of others who inflicted abuse, bullying or neglect on the children who contacted us. Now we are hearing from young people who are just deeply unhappy.

“Mental health issues dominate the main concerns which young people contact Childline about, with 109,136 counselling sessions, almost 25,000 of which were with children who felt so desperate, they told us about having suicidal thoughts. It is hard to imagine how these children and young people would cope without Childline there to support them.”

Commenting on the report, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It is vital that appropriate resources are available to schools and to children to support them when specialist help is needed.

“At the moment, support services for children and families are wildly underfunded, from mental health services to child protective services to the police. Schools alone cannot be held entirely responsible for children’s safety and wellbeing; every area of society must play its part. Any new government must commit to ensuring schools can access timely and effective support from the services that children and families rely on.”


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