Mental health issues, bullying and social media are all contributing towards a growing number of young people in Northern Ireland struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness, according to Childline.
The latest figures from Childline reveal the NSPCC-supported service delivered 4,636 counselling sessions for loneliness in 2017/18 – a 14% rise on the previous year.
Of that total, 105 Northern Ireland counselling sessions were carried out with children from Northern Ireland, up from 71 in the previous year.
Across the UK, girls received almost 80% of sessions, with some pointing to the harmful effects of social media use and how comparing themselves to others online or watching people they thought were friends socialise without them made them feel increasingly isolated.
It comes as the NSPCC’s ‘Are you there?’ campaign is calling on the UK Government to provide funding to Childline so it can help more children and teenagers struggling with mental health issues.
One teenage boy told Childline:
“Recently I’ve been feeling really isolated and alone. I see all my friends having a good time on social media and it gets me down, I feel like no one cares enough to invite me. My mood is getting worse and now I’m just upset all the time and can’t stop crying. It’s affecting my school work and my mood swings are uncontrollable, it’s like everything is falling apart. I just don’t want to feel alone anymore.” (Boy, 16-18)
Colin Reid, NSPCC Northern Ireland policy and public affairs manager, said: “These Childline figures show that although we might not think of loneliness as something that affects young people. But children are increasingly seeking support about feeling alone and isolated.”
Childline founder, Dame Esther Rantzen, added: “Loneliness needs to be taken seriously because it is potentially damaging to children’s physical and mental health. The crucial question is what is causing this rise among the young?
“Are we all too busy to make space and time for our children? Is it that we have lost the habit of eating together? Or is it the illusion created by social networks that everyone else is liked, popular and enjoying a far more exciting life so they feel lonelier than ever? Whatever the reason it’s crucial that young people know they can always contact Childline to speak to someone who will listen and care about them.”