Worldwide there is growing recognition of the impact of mental health difficulties on children. While estimates vary from country to country, approximately one in ten children and adolescents experience mental health difficulties severe enough to impact on their happiness and quality of life and to require specialist help. Unfortunately most of these children do not receive the care they require on a timely basis, with devastating consequences.
We need to start to find innovative and creative ways to meet the needs of these children. Collaboration between all service providers is essential. Child helplines, in particular, play an essential role in breaking this cycle of suffering. Not only are they often the gateway for children to access appropriate support and help but in many situations they are the only or most important support for the child. The accessibility, non-stigmatising and child centred ethos of helplines make them vital in the battle against childhood mental health difficulties
Child Helpline International is a network of over 190 child helplines from across the world. The organisation coordinates advocacy, facilitates knowledge transfer, capacity building and influences policy worldwide. In conjunction with St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, CHI, as part of its latest annual report, has produced a paper focusing on the contacts made worldwide to helplines relating to psychosocial and mental health problems. This report provides a powerful picture of the mental health needs of children worldwide.
The paper indicates that more than 700,000 contacts were made to child helplines in 2014, relating to psychosocial and mental health issues, making this one of the top three reasons a child contacted a helpline. 17% of these contacts related to fear and anxiety. The paper emphasises the key role child helplines play and the importance of collaborative working between helplines and traditional mental health services to effect better outcomes for children.
The paper provides a stark reminder that without help, the personal suffering of children and adolescents experiencing mental health difficulties is immense. These young people describe being in a very dark place with no way out, often feeling desperate for help. They find it hard to articulate or discuss their difficulties, feeling others won’t understand or will see them as odd. Many feel, and become, completely socially isolated, drop out of the education system early and often cannot get into the employment market. Some turn to alcohol and drug abuse, and self-harm. For their families trying to cope with these difficulties becomes all consuming, often having consequences for siblings and parents.
Research tells us that with the right support children and young people with mental health difficulties can recover and live fulfilling lives. This paper is a timely reminder that we all need to work together to provide this support.