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'Nothing is more urgent than addressing the increased unhappiness in children'

Peter Liver, director of ChildLine, writes:

It’s harrowing to think that some of our young children are feeling so unhappy that they are contemplating ending their own lives – but that is exactly what children aged between seven- and 18-years-old are telling us here at ChildLine.

Every day, our ChildLine volunteers are counselling children who are feeling desperate for someone to talk to and over the past year our helpline workers have held almost 35,000 counselling sessions with young people who talked about their suicidal thoughts. Sadly, this is a growing trend and we have seen a 116 per cent rise in these counselling sessions in the last three years.

These figures are incredibly worrying and have been included in our new NSPCC report On the Edge – which reveals disturbing trends in the increased unhappiness of young people in Britain. Our findings show why it is so important that we get the message out there to children who are struggling: you are not alone and there is someone out there who will listen to you, try to help and not judge you.

Nearly 6,000 children have spoken to us this year alone about their actual suicide attempts and we need to ensure these young people are never fearful or ashamed to tell others of their feelings. But how do we stop young people from getting to a point where they feel like there is no way out in the first place?

This week, I attended the Child Helpline International (CHI) conference, which included delegates from over 200 helplines across the world. We spoke about the issues facing children and how important it is that we all come together to find solutions – nothing is more urgent than addressing the increased unhappiness in children.

That’s why we have teamed up with organisations including YoungMinds and PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide to share the trends we’re seeing at ChildLine and to discuss solutions.

What is evident is that parents, carers, and professionals – including teachers – want to help and greatly value guidance on providing advice to young people.

One of the most important things you can do is to be aware of young people showing signs of suicidal feelings. Often, young people are just waiting for someone to ask them how they are. Simply asking someone how they are feeling and how you can help can be a lifeline for someone who is struggling to cope. But give them time to feel comfortable in opening up. Above all, whether it’s a pupil, or indeed your own child, we must encourage open conversations and let children know that they will be listened to in a non-judgemental and safe environment. You can find more guidance in our report.

There are other ways in which we think the government in England and Wales can vastly improve the outlook for young people who are being denied a childhood.

1)      We need to ensure young people are involved in suggesting how local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) can be improved – we need to hear what young people are telling us about their experiences – the best way to improve a service is talk to the people that have used it and if this is a child we need to learn from their experiences.

2)      There needs to be a new prevalence study into the mental health of children and young people in England and Wales - the previous study, completed in 2004, pre-dates much of the internet as it is known today. We know the internet never sleeps and that this is putting enormous pressure on children – they can’t go home and escape bullying like children could 10 years ago and this means that the way in which young people deal with their feelings has changed beyond recognition.   

3)      Suicidal thoughts also carry a stigma, which makes it hard for many young people to talk about it, but it is important that we try to change this – which is why we are supporting PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide’s call to the Ministry of Justice to review the “beyond all reasonable doubt” burden of proof required for a suicide verdict in England and Wales. This is the same burden of proof which is needed for crimes such as murder – which perpetuates the misunderstanding surrounding this issue.

If you are concerned about a child, then please encourage them to contact ChildLine on (0800 1111) or direct them to the website – – they can remain anonymous and can contact us anytime day or night. If we all work together to reach out to young people and to let them know that they are not alone we can help give them a brighter future. Every childhood is worth fighting for.

If you have any concerns that you’d like to talk through, contact either NSPCC helpline (0808 800 5000), or speak to Young Minds (0808 802 5544) or PAPYRUS (0800 068 4141)

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - how to talk to pupils with suicidal feelings

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