The NSPCC run service Childline can reveal counselling sessions about loneliness peaked over the festive period last year, with the service delivering a record number of nearly 600 in December alone.
From April 2020 to March 2021 there were 6,039 counselling sessions about loneliness, marking an all-time high for a single year. This is an increase of nearly half (49%) over the past four years.
The NSPCC has long highlighted that many children and young people struggle with loneliness and isolation. The data released today suggests that these feelings were exacerbated during the pandemic, as schools were closed, and they were forced to stay at home. Children shared with Childline’s counsellors that these experiences were particularly acute over the festive period, as households were unable to mix.
The charity can also reveal that loneliness is particularly affecting younger children. In 2020/21, there was a 47 percent increase in counselling sessions with children aged 11 and under when compared to the year before.
Young people who contacted Childline about loneliness also talked about being unhappy, feeling unloved and generally low. Some described it as a dark experience that was overwhelming. As well as loneliness, the top reasons children turn to the service for support with their mental health include anxiety and stress, low mood, and depression.
Childline is staffed by 1,200 Childline volunteer counsellors and last month celebrated its 35th birthday.
19-year-old Jake who called Childline in his darkest moments growing up said:
“The struggles I had with my mental health led me to feel incredibly lonely, isolated and suicidal. Childline was there for me at my lowest points. I felt such relief that someone was genuinely listening to me. My story shows that, with Childline, there’s always hope. Even when life feels at its darkest. I could tell the Childline counsellors really cared.”
In response to concerns about children this Christmas, the NSPCC has launched its ‘Here for Children’ TV Christmas Appeal. The advert, which will go out across TV channels including Sky News, More4 and Film4 today, sees Childline counsellors taking calls at Christmas from children struggling with loneliness and isolation, suicidal thoughts and feelings and physical abuse.
A voiceover says ‘This Christmas, thousands of children will be struggling to cope. It’s not OK. You can help us be here for children. Search NSPCC to give £20 now.’
Christmas can be a very challenging time for children who suffer from abuse, neglect and are struggling with their mental health. Cut off from school and other support, it is vital they have somewhere to turn. The NSPCC is reaching out to the public to support its Here for Children Appeal and make a donation, so Childline counsellors can answer a child’s call for help this Christmas.
Childline supervisor Igor who supported Jake said:
“When we talked to Jake, we helped him to try and manage what was going on and let him know Childline was there to listen whenever he needed someone to talk to.
“I know from the calls I receive at Christmas that pressures and dangers at home can reach crisis point. Without the chance to talk to someone who understands, these kinds of pressures can lead to children feeling incredibly low and isolated, increasing the risk of more serious mental health issues. The Childline service is here for children every day, even on Christmas Day. If we can listen, there’s so much we can do. In some cases, we can quite literally save their lives.”
Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, as well as seeking support from Childline counsellors, young people accessed Childline online resources, information, and tools to support their mental health in ways and at times that were most convenient and helpful to them. Childline saw huge increases in the number of young people using the website to access information, advice and resources.
Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder of Childline said:
“At Childline we know how painful Christmas can be for some children, particularly when the media is filled with pictures of families happily celebrating together, and they are feeling alone and unloved. A child once described it to us as like looking through a shop window where everything inside is warm and bright, and you are outside where it’s cold and dark.
“The festive period can be especially difficult for children who are struggling with their mental health or are in homes that are unsafe. Given the impact of the pandemic, it is no surprise that this year we’ve seen record numbers of children get in touch with us about loneliness. The lockdowns exacerbated these feelings for some young people, especially when schools had to close, and they couldn’t see the friends and family they loved and needed.
“Last Christmas was one of the toughest in living memory, bringing with it great sadness and challenges for many children. So we need to remind them that Childline is still there for them, and that they can contact us by phone or on-line, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
Landmarks light up green as people walk for children
On the 21st December, which is the longest night of the year, hundreds of people will walk 5k to support the NSPCC. On this night, landmarks across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, County Hall and Leeds Town Hall are also supporting the charity by lighting up and turning the NSPCC’s trademark green colour. The people taking to the streets to walk and the landmarks lighting up green represent the hard-working Childline counsellors who are there for children, offering a beacon of light in their darkest times.
The Childline service is here for children every day, even on Christmas Day. Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When a child needs help, Childline can be a lifeline. When a child feels like they have nowhere else to turn to, it’s vital that the NSPCC is here, ready to listen and support children across the UK.