The number of children seeking help for anxiety has risen sharply in the last year, a leading charity has said, with increased exposure to global affairs on social media suggested as a possible cause.
The NSPCC’s Childline service handled 11,706 counselling sessions for anxiety over the past year, a 35% increase on 2014-15. The charity said: “Worryingly the problem appears to be getting worse.” It dealt with 6,500 contacts in the last six months where anxiety was cited the main issue – an average of 1,000 a month or 36 a day.
Research showed an increasing number of children and young people were concerned about world affairs such as the EU referendum, the US election and the conflict in Syria.
The rise is said to be down to a combination of personal and political issues, with some young people talking to counsellors about problems in their day-to-day life, while others cited disturbing events seen in the media and on social media as being the source of their worries, the charity said.
As Childline marks its 30th anniversary, it has created a webpage, launched in September, called Worries about the world, which has already received almost 5,000 visits.
Childline’s president, Esther Rantzen, said: “Seeing pictures of crying and bewildered toddlers being pulled from bomb-damaged homes upsets all of us. Often we fail to notice the impact these stories are having on young people.”
She said the fact they turned to Childline enabled them to express their anxiety. “Sometimes these stories also reveal related concerns in their own lives, such as being subjected to racist bullying.”
Being listened to and reassured, she said, meant if they suffer from other problems, “such as abuse or neglect, self-harm or cyberbullying, they will also turn to us for help”.
Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “The world can be a worrying place but we need to ensure our children are reassured rather than left overwhelmed and frightened.
“It’s only natural for children and young people to feel worried sometimes, but when they are plagued by constant fears that are resulting in panic attacks and making them not want to leave the house then they need support.”
Children as young as eight have contacted Childline to talk about their fears, with girls seven times more likely to get in touch for help with anxiety than boys.
There has been a marked shift in how the service is used. More than two-thirds of users now communicate with counsellors online.