New data makes for very grim reading this Children’s Mental Health Week. Findings from text support service Shout shows that the proportion of children aged 13 and under using their service has grown by 47% since 2019 with increasing numbers seeking help for self-harm and suicidal thoughts: 35.9% of conversations with children aged 13 and under in 2021 were about suicide; this is a 29% increase since 2019. And 27.5% of conversations with children aged 13 and under in 2021 were about self-harm; this is a 17% increase since 2019.
These statistics are alarming and bring to the fore how young people’s mental health is a rapidly worsening crisis.
We need to take action. And we need to do so fast, to support the increasing numbers of young people who need help, are self-harming, or are thinking about ending their own lives.
Shout and the NHS Best For You programme are working together to raise awareness of the catastrophic impact the pandemic is having on our children. We are committed to making the right kind of support easily accessible without long waits, in a way that suits young people and their families.
Best For You is a partnership between CW+ and three NHS Trusts in North West London with local community, digital and voluntary sector organisations. We provide an innovative approach to care by uniquely combining inpatient care with day services, community programmes, and digital interventions.
The digital programme Best For You as been fast-tracked to help as many young people as possible. It includes Shout’s dedicated text support service, which is free, confidential, and accessible 24/7 by texting the word ‘NATTER’ to 85258.
Dr Ritu Mitra, Consultant Psychiatrist, Best For You, explains: ‘Our teams are seeing the devastating effects the pandemic is having on the mental health of our children and young people in particular. It’s deeply concerning how many more young people are self-harming or feeling that suicide is the only option.
‘We hope that this week serves as a much-needed reminder to everyone to come together to tackle this mental health crisis. We need to talk about the issues around mental health, offer support, and spread the word about services that can help young people in need, such as Best For You and our confidential 24/7 text service.’
Victoria Hornby, chief executive of charity Mental Health Innovations, which powers Shout, says: ‘Our daily conversations have increased by 180% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and are continuing to rise. Every day we speak to hundreds of young people who are feeling overwhelmed and often suicidal – like 12-year-old Jack [not real name] who started experiencing severe anxiety during the pandemic. He spent more and more time on his own, no longer connecting with his friends and struggling with online school. He became anxious about the future and whether life would ever get back to normal. Things had become so difficult for him that, one evening, he decided to end his life. That night, he texted Shout. The volunteer who responded guided Jack to a calmer place and worked with him to find the courage to phone the emergency services, who came and helped him.
‘For every young person who texts us, we know there are many more who need support but don’t know where to turn. Sometimes it can be easier to text than to say the words out loud to a friend, someone in your family or even your teacher, which is where we can help. If you are feeling worried, anxious or overwhelmed, text “NATTER” to 85258 to start a conversation with a trained volunteer any time of the day or night.’