With a growing sense of anxiety about the future, there has been a spike in young callers experiencing suicidal thoughts. This past month, children’s crisis service Childline reports having received between 25 and 30 calls a week from children expressing suicidal ideation over fears of COVID-19.
Typically fielding up to 800 calls per day, the service claims a growing number of contacts through the year involved the impact of the pandemic. Although hoping for this to be a blip, Childline CEO John Church admits that the figure is a little concerning.
Regarding the Childline contacts, Mr Church said there has been “quite an increase in self-harm and suicidal ideation, which would be very worrying. It has gone from 0.5% to 2.5% of calls. That is a trend in the last few weeks. We hope it’s just a blip. It’s enough to be concerned about. That’s 25 to 30 calls a week relating to suicide. That’s 25 to 30 children concerned about it, having thoughts about suicide.”
With a popular webchat service and a 24-hour text service, Childline – and other great services – receive an abundance of contacts. However, Mr Church claims that the type of contacts Childline has received during the year has changed, compared to others gone by.
“At the very start of COVID, there were different types of calls,” he said. “Children were concerned about getting COVID, about their family getting COVID, their grandparents. Next March, we will be two years into this, and you see that stress and strain impact on children. There is an awful lot more calls about anxiety. That is very, very high. Anxiety about life, about the future, being locked down, studying for exams, not knowing about their future.”
Mr Church went on to discuss call statistics, which shown a number of contacts referencing suicide were generally made by girls, whereas overall more boys use the service. The Childline CEO describes the transcripts as a build-up of anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness.
“A lot of comments you hear are that children are resilient, they’ll be fine, that it’s the older people [we need to be concerned about], but we are seeing this latent build-up, isolation from friends, isolation from school, from coaches. It’s been an extended period away from normal life, and routine is so important for children.”
Children’s Ombudsman, Niall Muldoon, is calling for the Government to implement a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment when considering the impact of various measures. He feels Government need to take children into account when putting laws and public health measures in place.
“Coming back afterwards and trying to minimise the negative impacts that changes or restrictions have had on children is not good enough almost two years in,” Mr Muldoon said. “We all understand that decisions must be made in the interest of public health. However, the impact that decisions will have on children should be considered prior to, and as part of, the decision-making process.
“The Government need to be establishing a process to generate a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, a specific procedure that balances children’s best interests with changes that need to be made from a public health point of view is needed.”