Sunday, 29 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: ‘My mum won’t hug me’ – rise in calls to Childline about pandemic

Coronavirus fears are taking a growing toll on the mental health of Britain’s young people, according to Childline.

The child counselling service says it has delivered more than 900 sessions to children worried about the coronavirus, which has infected more than 500,000 people around the world.

Almost two-thirds (597) of the Childline sessions took place between 16 and 22 March, while the peak was 18 March, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced school closures. There were 121 calls that day.

The charity said that more than 50 of the sessions that week were with children who had suicidal thoughts made worse by their concerns about the virus.

One girl told the helpline: “My mum and I have a good relationship but she’s really obsessed with the news and she won’t hug me or get very close to me.

“It scares me to think this will go on for months. She constantly talks about the coronavirus and my anxiety is getting worse.”

For children with difficult home lives, friends and schools might have provided a support network but, due to restrictions implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, these support networks have been cut off.

In Scotland, the NSPCC said its counsellors had helped 167 children between 16 and 22 March with isolation, arguments at home and problems accessing mental health support among the issues faced by children.

One girl had told the service that the cancellation of her mental health appointment and closure of her school had left her “really anxious, upset and lonely”.

Childline staff in England and Wales have been given key worker status so they can continue the service, but the NSPCC in Scotland wants the same for its workers.

Leanne Ferries, Aberdeen Childline service manager, said: “Coronavirus is in the news constantly, causing some young people to be anxious, particularly those who are already coping with other issues in their lives.

“Things are being made even more difficult for them by schools closing, being confined to their homes and not being able to see their friends.

“That is why it is vital that a service like Childline is there throughout this crisis, always ready to listen and help.

“Keeping children safe and providing them with a space to talk about their concerns is our number one priority.”

Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen said: “Sometimes young people find it difficult to share their anxieties with their parents, for fear of worrying them further. So it is important that families talk about their feelings, together.

“We are hearing from children who have been cut off from vital support networks such as school, and friends, and that has increased their feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.

“They may have pre-existing mental health issues which are exacerbated by the current crisis.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We know that young people may be worried in what is an unprecedented situation.

“We are acting across government and working with the NHS and Public Health England to ensure support is there for the young people that need it, and we are grateful to Childline’s staff and volunteers for everything they do to support vulnerable children.”

To contact Childline call 0800 1111 or for other ways to speak to one of the helpline’s counsellors, look at https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/contacting-childline/

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