The Sunday Telegraph

Childline calls over suicidal thoughts surge

Legacy of post-lockdown despair will leave impact on children’s mental health services, charity staff fear

- By Gabriella Swerling SOCIAL AFFAIRS EDITOR

THE number of children seeking help with suicidal thoughts and self-harming reached a peak during lockdown, Childline figures have revealed.

The charity said that in April there were 10,680 calls made to the telephone counsellin­g service for help regarding mental health and well-being. This is in comparison with the prelockdow­n average of 9,431.

Of those calls, 2,584 specifical­ly related to suicidal thoughts, compared with a pre-lockdown average of 2,323.

Childline, run by the NSPCC, shared the data with The Sunday Telegraph before children return to school next week. Charity workers are concerned “that there will be a legacy of post-lockdown despair which will impact on our services”.

Andrew Fellowes, NSPCC public affairs manager, said: “There is no doubt that the coronaviru­s pandemic has had a direct impact on the mental health of many children and young people.”

He called on the Government to “equip schools to recognise and act on the signs of unmet needs of abuse and neglect” and prioritise funding to reach children who had suffered most in lockdown.

Among the callers to Childline was one 15-year-old girl who had been bullied by a boy at school and had thought about ending her life. She said: “Now I have to go back to school and I am really stressed and worried about it.”

Papyrus, a UK charity for the prevention of young suicides, said 90 per cent of calls to its HopeLineUK helpline during lockdown were Covid-19 related.

It said there was a surge in late May and early June, with many concerned about a loss of income, reduction in service provision, domestic violence and abuse, and the potential to become infected with Covid-19.

However, charity workers emphasised that “although we know many young people are struggling at the moment, it is important to remember that suicide is extremely complex. A combinatio­n of things contribute to a person’s risk of suicide and it is seldom the result of a single factor”.

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. According to the latest government data, the rate has risen sharply to its highest level since 2002, with men accounting for three quarters of those who took their own lives.

A total of 6,507 suicides were registered in 2018, up 11.8 per cent on 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. The rate of young people aged 10 to 24 killing themselves hit a 19-year high and the rate for young females reached an all-time high.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Our guidance for schools is strongly focused on well-being and helping pupils re-engage in their education and we have provided thousands of schools, colleges and teachers with online webinars and training modules.

“We have also launched a new programme run by mental health experts, backed by £8million, which will provide schools and colleges all over England with the knowledge and access to resources they need to support children and young people, teachers and parents if they have been affected by coronaviru­s.”

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