Warning over lockdown's toll on children's mental health

Leading children’s charity the NSPCC has warned that increasing stress levels have taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of young people since March.

New figures indicate that calls to the charity’s ChildLine service reached nearly 43,000 between March and October, with mental health worries making up more than a third of all its counselling sessions. The NSPCC said its counsellors had heard from children who were feeling isolated, anxious and insecure after being cut off from their usual social support networks.

The charity found that some young people had developed eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia for the first time, while others with existing eating disorders had reported worse symptoms or had relapsed. In fact, counselling sessions for eating and body image disorders rose by 32 per cent from 335 per month before the March lockdown to 443 afterwards.

Dame Esther Rantzen, who founded the helpline, said the pandemic had cut children off from the reassurance many of them need.

She said: “When young people are facing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, or are struggling with eating disorders or self-harm, they often hide it from their parents and families. A lockdown intensifies stress in all our lives, and the ChildLine team know from past experience that it has made many children feel especially isolated.”

The NSPCC has launched a new campaign that aims to help children cope with the mental and emotional difficulties they may experience during the latest lockdown. The campaign, Nobody is Normal, hopes to reassure children that lacking confidence, not feeling good enough, or not fitting in are common experiences.

Rantzen continued: “The Nobody Is Normal campaign encourages any children feeling unable to discuss their anxiety and distress to reach out to ChildLine for support,” she added. “Many young people are under immense pressure from social media to look and behave like everyone else, but the campaign recognises that we are all individuals, special and unique. If these tough times have caused children to feel an extra level of anxiety, we want them to feel confident to express their fears and share their worries, and know that ChildLine is still here for them.”