A West Country man who has been counselling children contacting the NSPCC’s Childline service during lockdown has opened up about his experiences as the charity reveals a surge in contact from young people with worries about mental health.
Kevin West usually works for the NSPCC’s Schools Service team, which prior to lockdown was responsible for the delivery of the charity’s Speak Out Stay Safe programme to thousands of primary school children across the region.
Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Kevin has been trained up as a Childline counsellor to support children contacting the helpline, and now new figures reveal an increase in young children getting in touch with the service about their mental health and emotional wellbeing, with counselling sessions going up by 37% for 11-year-olds and under compared to before the lockdown.
The NSPCC is growing increasingly concerned that children are the hidden victims of the COVID-19 crisis, with Childline providing a vital lifeline to children whose counselling sessions have shown that mental health is their top concern.
Reflecting on what has been an emotional time responding to children about their worries and concerns, Kevin says youngsters are contacting Childline about a range of different issues.
“Many children that I have spoken to said lockdown has made them unable to get the support they would usually have access to. For a lot of these young people this would have been counselling sessions or teachers at school who they feel they can talk to. For others, it is simply their usual hobbies. I had a young person speak about not being able to go to the gym or row; things that they used to ‘blow off some steam’. There have also been a few young people concerned about how lockdown will affect exam results and ultimately their future. The themes have varied from questions about sex and sexuality, family worries, eating disorders to emotional abuse, self-harm and suicide. However, one thing that has been plain to see within a large proportion of these contacts has been a feeling of loneliness and isolation.”
In association with ITV’s Tonight programme which was aired last night, the NSPCC run service is publishing its latest data which reveals that since the beginning of lockdown there have been nearly 22,000 counselling sessions about mental health concerns.
Counselling sessions about this topic peaked in May, when the service delivered 15% more than the pre-lockdown monthly average.
An eight year-old-girl told Childline:
“I am feeling sad and worried. I am scared of Covid-19 and feel like my family don’t care about me. I don’t get any attention and am always fighting with my mum. I live with just my mum and don’t see dad much. We live in a tiny flat and sometimes we get so angry with each other we end up fighting. After we have had a fight I hurt myself because I feel like I am not good enough.”
The number of counselling sessions where children mentioned worries about the world more than doubled compared to before lockdown and the easing of lockdown has increased anxiety levels for some young people. They have shared concerns about returning to school, catching the virus, classwork, exams and how school life will be now.
Esther Rantzen, Founder of Childline said:
“The Coronavirus pandemic has turned children’s lives upside down, cutting them off from the places they have relied upon in the past for comfort and support. During lockdown, the virus has imprisoned them in homes which may not be safe, with emotional and physical abuse, violence, or neglect. This has meant many young people have turned to Childline as their only lifeline, and have shared with us that they are unable to cope, and are desperate for help. We know that by providing children with a safe, confidential way to share their anxiety, as well as timely support so they can describe their feelings, we can help to prevent their problems totally overwhelming them.
“At Childline we have always provided a vital listening ear for our young people who know we are there for them, and our website offers practical help to calm and reassure them. But as lockdown eases, and as life continues to feel uncertain and challenging, it is essential that in addition to Childline our children have access to the mental health resources they will need to help them cope.”