Exam pressures fuel rise in Childline calls about mental health

Children are suffering mental health problems because they feel that they have to conform, says NSPCC chief executive

Alec Evans

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Exam pressures have contributed to a near tripling in the proportion of Childline callers whose main concerns relate to their mental wellbeing.

Childline's annual review reveals that more than a fifth – 22 per cent – of the almost 300,000 young people whom it counselled in 2016-2017 were primarily concerned about their mental and emotional health. This was an increase from 8 per cent in 2015-2016.

Speaking to Tes at yesterday’s Childline Annual Review launch, NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “These issues reflect the pressure to conform and do well in exams.”

The NSPCC runs a Speak Out Stay Safe programme for primary school pupils, which provides assemblies and smaller workshops with counsellors.

Mr Wanless added: "Anything that can create an environment where young people feel a sense of pride and value in themselves is the critical thing." 

In-school problems, including exam pressures and workload, were cited by 5 per cent of Childline callers in the past year.

Suicide danger

The review also reveals that more than 22,400 children who had contacted Childline throughout the year said they were contemplating ending their own lives.

Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen, another of the speakers at the launch, said sexual abuse was the biggest issue reported by Childline callers when the charity started out. She formed the organisation in 1986, back when topics like sexual abuse were seen as much more of a taboo.

Today, the pressures faced by children often revolve around mental health, which Dame Esther said could be caused by social media.

She said: “When I ask our volunteer counsellors why children feel so isolated, very often they say 'social media'. The virtual reality conveys the impression that everybody is gloriously attractive and wonderfully popular, which contrasts with the experience of the individual child.”

However, advances in technology have also made it easier for young people to get in touch. Dame Esther said that 72 per cent of all Childline contacts were made online, and the vast majority of children used mobile devices.

Mr Wanless added that children often find the internet an easier way to discuss upsetting issues, with 82 per cent of counselling sessions about suicide taking place online.

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Alec Evans

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