Shock rise in kids calling ChildLine about self-harm

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The number of young people seeking help from ChildLine about self-harm has soared by more than two-thirds (68 per cent) in the last year, new figures have revealed.

Counsellors have also handled a 39 per cent rise in contacts about suicide.

The dramatic increases mean there are nearly 80 counselling sessions every day about these issues, which are being driven by teenagers under increasing pressure.

The most recent figures show that last year (2011/2012) ChildLine volunteers in Belfast and Foyle counselled a total of 1,187 children and young people who told counsellors they were self harming. This compares to 744 children counselled the previous year in 2010/2011.

ChildLine’s annual report, ‘Saying the Unsayable’, shows that self-harm is now the fourth most common reason for children to make contact and the age of those seeking help is falling steadily.

Mairead Monds, local ChildLine services manager, said: “Contacts about self-harm and suicide are a growing area of concern for us. It seems the pressures facing children and young people - particularly girls - are increasing at such a rate that some of them see these drastic measures as the only answer to their problems. We know boys are also suffering, but they are less likely to seek help and we urge them to do so.

“The reasons for self-harming can be very personal. They can be linked to problems at home, at school or because children are, or have been abused. Often young people don’t know why they do it and talking through their problems can help them identify what is upsetting them. We can always offer support and help to a child who might think they are in the darkest of places, so they can begin to turn their lives around. No matter how bad things seem it can helps to talk to someone who may be able to provide a crucial lifeline.”

Nationally during 2011/2012 there were 16,264 counselling sessions about self-harm, mainly from 13-16 year olds. The number of counselling sessions about suicide rose to 12,260 and came mostly from 15 and 17 year-olds.The number of teenagers seeking counselling about suicide has been increasing since 2007. Last year, just under 1,000 cases - mostly girls - were referred by ChildLine to the emergency services, almost double the number for 2010/2011.

The dramatic increases mean there are nearly 80 counselling sessions every day about these issues, which are being driven by teenagers under increasing pressure.

One girl, aged 14, said: “Me and my mum don’t get on at all. Mum drinks loads and she doesn’t have time for me anymore. I’ve had vodka and I have more. I have a razor too and I think about 24 tablets in the house. I don’t want to live anymore. Mum has just yelled at me, I hate it. I know she can’t control her anger, but now I just want to die.”

A nine year old said: “I feel like hurting myself because I feel scared. My dad scares me. He comes into my room every night when mum is at work. What he does to me hurts. I haven’t told anyone because my dad says all dads do it. I am scared and I want it to stop.”

Last year ChildLine provided over 325,000 counselling sessions, an 18 per cent increase on the previous year. These were from children who spoke about a range of issues including being sexually or physically abused, bullied, having family problems, or a combination of these distressing issues.

‘Family relationships’ was the main reason children contacted ChildLine last year, with 39,683 counselling sessions followed by bullying (31,599). Physical abuse came next (17,542) followed by self-harm (16,264) and sexual abuse (15,993).

While the majority of children and young people who contact the free, 24-hour service are aged between 13 and 17, some are as young as five. More than half (51 per cent) of all contacts from children (where gender was known) were from girls and 20 per cent from boys.

Peter Liver, Director of ChildLine, said: “There have been notable changes in the problems children contact us about since ChildLine launched in 1986.”