Huge increase in suicidal feelings among young people

Figures released as Child Helplines from across the world hold summit in London

Today we're publishing "On the Edge", a report from ChildLine that reveals disturbing trends in the increased unhappiness of young people in Britain.

34,517 counselling sessions were held by ChildLine (UK) in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicidal thoughts – a 117% increase since 2010/11. Nearly 6,000 of these children had told a counsellor that they had previously attempted suicide - a 43% increase on the year before. The vast majority of these children had not revealed their feelings to anyone else. ChildLine is urging these young people not to feel fearful or ashamed to tell others of their feelings.

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The figures have been released to coincide with the start of Child Helpline Internationals' (CHI) biannual conference, which is being hosted for the first time in the UK (London) and includes over 200 delegates from child helpline's across the world.

Tackling and understanding the mental health issues young people face

Having shared and discussed the On the Edge study's findings with experts in mental health such as Young Minds and PAPYRUS, ChildLine and the NSPCC recommend a series of initiatives to help tackle and understand the emerging mental health issues young people face. This includes reminding them that they can contact ChildLine by phone on 0800 1111 or online for free, and at any time of day or night.

Additional advice covers:

  • recommendations to help parents, carers, and professionals in providing guidance to young people supporting friends and family who are self-harming or feeling suicidal.
  • giving young people a greater involvement in designing and improving local Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with consideration given to enhanced online support services that can be accessed at any time, and in the way young people want.
  • urging the Government to launch a new prevalence study into the mental health of children and young people in England and Wales, as the previous study, completed in 2004, pre-dates much of the internet as it is known today.
  • supporting the call to the Ministry of Justice to review the "beyond all reasonable doubt" burden of proof required for a suicide verdict in England and Wales – which is currently the same needed for crimes such as murder. The charities believe lowering this is imperative to be able to provide a more accurate figure for the scale of suicide. This will encourage a more open conversation about how to better prevent suicide and support young people.

More open and frank conversations are needed

The charities all strongly believe that more open and frank conversations should be encouraged with children to enable them to describe their feelings, and discuss issues such as self-worth, self-harm and suicidal feelings. Suicidal thoughts carry a stigma, which makes it hard for many young people to talk about, but it is important that this issue should be tackled with young people, parents and professionals.

ChildLine Founder, Esther Rantzen says:

"We are now receiving more calls than ever before to ChildLine from children who are desperately unhappy, even to the point of wanting to end their lives. It is difficult to analyse the cause for this growing unhappiness, whether this is a symptom of our pressured lives, or the isolation of many young people is due to other factors in the family. The fact is that more children than ever are telling ChildLine that they are beset with suicidal thoughts. These are children who would feel unable to ask for help from anyone else.

"We must learn from what they are telling us, and persuade them not to feel fearful or ashamed to tell others of their feelings. The first step is to make sure that young people have sufficient support around them. And so our report offers a wealth of guidance to parents, carers and professionals on where to seek help and how to open up these critical conversations with young people.

"We know from working closely with other charities, front-line services, and the Government that there is a will do to more.  We must ensure that these young people know that they are not alone – there is help available and that they can, and should, contact ChildLine if their feelings are overwhelming them."

On reading the final report, Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns and Media at YoungMinds said:
"The huge increases in calls to ChildLine in this report, the very serious nature of the calls and the ages of the children and young people making these calls are extremely worrying and we cannot just sit back and make excuses for why this is happening. Thousands of young people are experiencing extreme distress and these figures prove beyond doubt that the situation is getting much worse.

"Whole families are suffering too - we are seeing this extreme level of distress reflected in rocketing calls to our own support helpline by parents worried about their children's mental health. This report must act as a wakeup call for everyone who cares about the welfare of children and young people and its recommendations must be actioned urgently."

Ged Flynn, Chief Executive of national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide adds:
"That so many children and young people are having thoughts of suicide is no great surprise to us at PAPYRUS. That so many reach out for help may well be the surprise for the public. I am pleased that there is increasing awareness of the need for us all to listen to our young people and encourage them to seek and find appropriate and timely support when they are emotionally distressed.

"I am particularly pleased that the report picks up on our urgent call to HM Government to revisit the current use of the criminal standard of proof in coroners' courts. PAPYRUS believes the balance of probability to be a fairer test and to reflect the changes made in the Suicide Act of 1961, which decriminalised the act of suicide. The current position perpetuates the stigma around suicide – in fact, treats it as if it were still a crime. PAPYRUS argues that maintaining the high level of proof may distort the figures of those who have taken their own lives and contribute to inaccurate statistics.

"Young people deserve better than this. That suicide remains the leading cause of death in young people is a national scandal. We must act now."

12-15 year olds largest group to contact ChildLine

The report finds that 12-15 year-olds remain the largest age group to contact ChildLine about suicide, and that young people mentioned self-harm in 36% of counselling sessions about suicide – which is a 192 percent increase since 2010/11.

Online or cyber bullying is also found to be an issue, with the report stating that young people feeling suicidal frequently described incidences where they had been bullied through social networking sites. Some young people also told ChildLine that their suicidal feelings had been triggered by harmful content they had seen on websites.

What to do if you're worried about a child

If you are concerned about a child then encourage them to contact ChildLine anonymously on 0800 1111 or direct them to the ChildLine website. If you're an adult worried about a child you can contact the NSPCC's helpline 0808 800 5000 for advice and support.

Advice for parents and carers

  1. Seek help from professionals - speak to your GP in the first instance
  2. Be patient. Show you understand and are there for them when they're ready to talk. If they'd like to talk to someone anonymously, suggest they call ChildLine
  3. Ask what they need, before you offer advice
  4. Reassure them that you love them, you're proud of them and you're not angry. Their feelings aren't uncommon and it's ok to talk about this distress.
  5. Don't ignore it. Be open, discuss concerns and try to deal with them together
  6. Encourage them to get help. Young Minds and Get Connected have lots of information on local services.
  7. Offer support, but let them lead. Let them decide the level of involvement.
  8. Seek support yourself. Give yourself time to understand your own feelings and recognise when you might need support.

If you need support or advice, call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 at any time to speak to one of our trained counsellors.

Read On the edge report for more information

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For journalists who would like to cover this story, please refer to the Samaritans media guidelines on reporting suicide.

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