Children’s contact with helpline trebles

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The number of children contacting a national helpline after being troubled by depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide has trebled since the service went online, new figures have revealed.

ChildLine received more than 30,000 inquiries over these three issues in 2010/11, including 19,000 online in the first full year of the service being available over the internet, compared with 10,000 calls the previous year.

In the same period the Yorkshire and the North East branch of the charity, which is based in Leeds, counselled 1,573 children over the issues. Of these 1,020 contacts were online and 553 were over the phone. This compares with 598 phone calls the year before.

The figures, which have been released as ChildLine prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, show that children prefer to discuss self-harm on email or online one to one chat sessions, rather than on the phone.

More than 60 per cent of all counselling about suicide, depression and mental health issues took place online last year, the statistics showed.

Christine Mellor, ChildLine area manager in Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “Most children who contact us online are deeply troubled. It’s not yet clear if more children are suffering mental health problems, or if they simply find it easier to discuss them online.

“In many cases they will be struggling to cope with inner feelings they can’t control or understand. Others tell counsellors how they hurt themselves in an attempt to alleviate their pain. Sadly, for some, those feelings become so overwhelming they see no other option but to give up on life.

“By developing our online service we can reach out to more of these very troubled children who are struggling to cope with complex problems that are blighting their lives, and may not have contacted us without this new service.”

Overall, ChildLine received almost 275,000 counselling enquiries last year, 44 per cent more than in 2009/10. The figures show that bullying, family concerns and physical and sexual abuse were among some of the most common calls.

Speaking ahead of the charity’s 25th birthday on Sunday, its founder Esther Rantzen said: “This is a crucial milestone. We can reflect on what we’ve achieved, not just the huge numbers we have helped but the individual stories as well. ChildLine has provided hope in life for children deprived of hope and rescued them from isolation, despair, abuse, bullying and many other situations they thought would see no end. Eight suicidal children contact ChildLine every single day. The fact is, ChildLine saves lives and brings abusers to justice. But it could not do any of this without its dedicated supporters and volunteers. Without them, not one child would have been helped.

“It makes me especially proud as our 25th anniversary arrives that we can say, for the first time in ChildLine’s history, we can now answer almost every call the first time a child rings. But to continue this we need the support of the public and our volunteers. Every penny helps towards keeping this vital lifeline going.”