The latest figures from Childline reveal the NSPCC-supported service delivered 4,636 counselling sessions for loneliness in 2017/18 – a 14% rise on the previous year. Teenagers accounted for most of these, with the youngest person being just 10 years old.
Girls received almost 80% of sessions, with some pointing to the harmful effects of social media use and how comparing themselves to others online or watching people they thought were friends socialise without them made them feel increasingly isolated.
It comes as the NSPCC’s ‘Are you there?’ campaign is calling on Government to provide funding to Childline so it can help more children and teenagers struggling with mental health issues.
Nikita, 19, from Devon says she started feeling lonely during her school years.
“When I was in school, my best and only friend moved away to the other side of the country and I felt like I didn’t have anyone. I spoke to people in class, but outside of school I just shut myself away from everyone as I knew the people I spoke to in class had other friends to hang out with. I never had a proper friendship group so during lunch and break time, I floated around but I never really felt wanted anywhere. I still feel like this now as I only leave the house to go to college or work.
“I feel like I have missed out on my entire teenage life in terms of going to town with friends and going shopping. I feel like I have grown up way too quickly and it has had an impact on how I attempt to make friends. I feel like I have missed out on so much.”
Anna started feeling lonely after finishing her exams and facing the extra-long holiday period.
The 18-year-old from Bristol says: “This made me question how much I actually did with myself outside of school, and I began to feel like my life was meaningless and I had no purpose. These feelings made me isolate myself further, and my social anxiety escalated, meaning I felt even more lonely and trapped myself in a destructive cycle, almost like a black hole.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to when things got bad, as I was home alone most of the time, and even when someone was around, I was scared of worrying them by talking to them about my feelings.
“Childline helped massively by giving me someone to talk to, not just the amazing counsellors, but other young people too (through the message boards). Childline allowed me to feel that my problems and feelings were valid, giving me the confidence to open up more to people and stop isolating myself. I was never really alone if Childline was available.”
One teenage boy told Childline:
“Recently I’ve been feeling really isolated and alone. I see all my friends having a good time on social media and it gets me down, I feel like no one cares enough to invite me. My mood is getting worse and now I’m just upset all the time and can’t stop crying. It’s affecting my school work and my mood swings are uncontrollable, it’s like everything is falling apart. I just don’t want to feel alone anymore.” (Boy, 16-18)
Earlier this year the Prime Minister appointed Tracey Crouch as the first Minister to tackle loneliness and was tasked with heading a cross-government group with responsibility for policies connected to the issue.
The Government is also developing a wider strategy on loneliness, due to be published at the end of the year. Almudena Lara, NSPCC Head of Policy, said: “These Childline figures show that although we might not think of loneliness as something that affects young people. But children are increasingly seeking support about feeling alone and isolated.
“This year the Prime Minster announced a strategy on tackling loneliness and social isolation, and the NSPCC would urge those working on this taskforce to take children and how they are now engaging with the world fully into account.”
Childline founder, Dame Esther Rantzen, added: “Loneliness needs to be taken seriously because it is potentially damaging to children’s physical and mental health. The crucial question is what is causing this rise among the young?
“Are we all too busy to make space and time for our children? Is it that we have lost the habit of eating together? Or is it the illusion created by social networks that everyone else is liked, popular and enjoying a far more exciting life so they feel lonelier than ever? Whatever the reason it’s crucial that young people know they can always contact Childline to speak to someone who will listen and care about them.”
Childline counselling sessions about loneliness – Child Country Breakdown
The true figure of counselling sessions for England is likely to be higher because the country of origin was not provided to Childline in almost 1,000 counselling sessions.
Parents. How can you help?
The NSPCC has the following advice for parents who struggle to get their children to open up to them:
- Start conversations at a time when you won’t be interrupted such as on a walk or car ride
- Try not to overreact if your child tells you something that alarms and upsets you as it may put them off talking to you
- If your child isn’t ready to talk make sure you try again in a few days
- Make sure you take in what your child is telling you – it shows you value their feelings and opinions.
If you still struggle to get your child to open up make sure they know they can contact Childline for free and confidential support anytime on 0800 1111, www.childline.org.uk or by downloading the ‘For Me’ app from the app store.