On the edge: ChildLine spotlight report on suicide What children and young people told ChildLine about their support needs

Girl looking out of a windowWe have seen an increase in the number of children and young people contacting ChildLine about suicidal feelings. This report looks at what young people have told us and what they need when they are already distressed and contemplating taking their own lives.

The stigma of suicide means that the adults in their lives (including professionals) are failing to spot the signs, finding it hard to listen to their distress, and are providing inadequate levels of support.

We have also worked with other organisations, combining their expertise with what we've learnt through ChildLine, to create a series of recommendations. These show how simple changes in the way we listen to and support young people can make a huge difference – helping more to get support earlier, and breaking the silence and stigma that surrounds the issue of suicide.

This is part of the ChildLine Spotlight series.

Author: NSPCC
Published: 2014

  • ChildLine provided almost 35,000 counselling sessions about suicide last year.
  • There has been a 116% increase in counselling sessions about suicide over the last 3 years.
  • ChildLine provided over 5,800 counselling sessions to children who had previously attempted suicide.
  • Some young people felt that suicide was the only way to cope with their problems.
  • Young people who hadn’t acted upon their feelings said they were too scared, worried about their loved ones or didn’t know how to do it.
  • The most common age to contact ChildLine about suicide is 12-15 years, but more and more, younger children are also seeking help about this.
  • Young people mentioned self-harm in 36% of counselling sessions about suicide - which is a 192 percent increase since 2010/11
  • Nearly 3,000 counselling sessions were about someone else’s suicidal behaviour. Many young people struggle with the burden of supporting a friend or family member with suicidal thoughts.
  • In a fifth of cases, young people had not told anyone else about their suicidal feelings.
  • Young people used to internet to seek help and advice about their worries and to reassure themselves that others are experiencing similar issues. But some also used the internet to research ways they could end their life. Some said that seeing content online that normalised suicide or self-harm had led to their own thoughts of suicide. Some said they experienced bullying and abuse from others online, when they looked for support via social networking sites.
  • Over a third of counselling sessions about suicide also mentioned self-harm.
  • Young people self-harm instead of talking about their feelings or as a way to distract themselves from their suicidal thoughts.
  • Many young people also talked about other mental health problems such as hearing voices, insomnia, eating disorders, depression, not feeling in control of their lives and feeling worthless.

The report contains advice and recommendations for how young people, parents, practitioners, service providers and government can support children and young people to get the help they need. The advice focuses on:

  • talking about mental health more openly to reduce the stigma that surrounds it
  • listening carefully to what young people are saying and taking their worries seriously
  • finding sources of support (for the young people, their friends and their parents)
  • asking the young person what they need from you or from others
  • helping the young person have some control over what happens next.


Who contacts ChildLine about suicide and why? 5
The role of the internet 12
Supporting a friend or family member 16
Case study: How ChildLine has helped Leanne 21
Who’s ready to listen? 23
Recommendations: what can be done to help? 27
Acknowledgements 34
  • Seek help from professionals - speak to your GP in the first instance
  • 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
  • Ask what they need, before you offer advice
  • Reassure them that you love them, you're proud of them and you're not angry. Their feelings aren't uncommon and it's okay to talk about this distress
  • Don't ignore it. Be open, discuss concerns and try to deal with them together
  • Encourage them to get help. Young Minds and Get Connected have lots of information on local services
  • Offer support, but let them lead. Let them decide the level of involvement
  • 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 

Please cite as: NSPCC (2014) On the edge: ChildLine spotlight: suicide. London: NSPCC.

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 know from working closely with other charities, front-line services, and the Government that there is a will to do 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"
Esther Rantzen / ChildLine Founder

ChildLine Spotlight series

The NSPCC's ChildLine Spotlight series highlights what children and young people tell us when they contact us with their worries.

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