The number of teenagers receiving help to deal with anxiety from Childline has almost doubled in two years, fuelling concerns that charities are filling the gap left by public mental health services.
The NSPCC, which runs Childline, said it had delivered 21,297 counselling sessions to young people trying to deal with feelings of anxiety in the past year.
Overall, the service delivered 106,037 counselling sessions to young people experiencing problems with their mental and emotional health and wellbeing – marking a 5-per-cent increase on the previous year.
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The vast majority (88 per cent) of the support provided for this issue was given to girls, reinforcing how they are struggling to cope with growing up in the UK.
Children and teenagers cited a range of reasons why they may be feeling anxious, including bullying and cyber-bullying, eating problems, relationship problems and issues at school with homework and exams.
Some also experienced anxiety alongside other mental health issues such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, while others reported having suffered abuse, neglect or bereavement.
It comes after the NHS revealed one in eight children in England was living with a mental health problem such as depression and anxiety, behavioural or hyperactive disorders that are impacting their wellbeing.
Separate data recently revealed that less than a third of young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services received treatment within 12 months.
One teenage girl who contacted Childline said: “I have anxiety and get really bad panic attacks. I’ve never known how I could tell anybody about what I’m feeling so nobody else knows.
“I’ve tried to explain it a little bit to my mum, but she thought I was just stressed out about exams and I felt like she didn’t understand.
“Lately everything seems to make me nervous and worried and it’s all getting really hard to cope with. I want help from somewhere but I don’t know how to get it.”
Will Hausrath, who has been a Childline volunteer for nearly 10 years, said the increase could be explained in part because there is less stigma around discussing mental health, but also due to “constant pressure” on young people to perform well.
“It has become easier for people to speak out about a range of mental health issues in recent years, but we are seeing a real increase. It’s not just that effect of people feeling more able to speak,” he said.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint a single specific reason for the increase, but I think children are just under constant pressure to perform in different ways. They’re under pressure to perform really well at school, and it seems like the bar on things like that is much higher than it used to be.
“There’s also a whole social media world online, and they are interacting with the world on that platform and feeling a huge pressure to portray a hugely positive view of themselves and seeing other young people who are portraying a positive view of themselves on social media. And it’s a real pressure for them to keep up.”
The government recently announced a raft of proposals to tackle the problem, with the focus being on school-based support for young people. But these are being rolled-out gradually and will cover only a quarter of the country by 2022-23, meaning most children and teenagers will feel no impact from the reforms.
The NSPCC warned that as a result, free and confidential services like Childline would continue to be a lifeline to the thousands of young people who can’t access NHS or school-based mental health support.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Anxiety can be a crippling illness and it is deeply worrying that the number of counselling sessions we are delivering for this issue is rising so quickly.
“Increasingly Childline is filling the gap left by our public mental health services, providing young people with a place they can go for round the clock help and advice.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Supporting the mental health of our children and young people is a key priority for this government and we are transforming their mental health services, backed by £1.05bn last year alone.
“Our plans will help 70,000 more children a year get access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21.
“And we’re going further, piloting a four-week waiting time standard for treatment, training a brand new dedicated mental health workforce for schools across the country, and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like through our new subjects of relationships and health education.”