The NSPCC’s Childline service has warned that the number of children who are seeking help for anxiety-related problems is rising dramatically.
The charity helpline says that they have witnessed a 35% increase in the number of calls they have received over the last year from young children who are struggling to cope with anxiety. In 2015-16, 11,706 anxiety-related calls were received compared to 8,642 the previous year.
As well as the huge increase in the number of children who appear to be suffering from the mental health condition, another cause for concern is the fact that children as young as eight are calling up for help. The helpline says that anxieties causing young people so much distress range from personal and family concerns to political issues such as the EU referendum.
The charity has also warned that this is an issue which appears to be getting progressively worse. Provisional figures show that from April to September 2016, Childline has already dealt with almost 6,500 calls where anxiety has been cited as the main issue.
Interestingly, a gender disparity has emerged and it has been found that girls are seven times more likely to seek help for anxiety than boys are. Furthermore, recent figures which were released from the NHS revealed a rise in the number of incidents of self-harm amongst young girls.
Whilst the data initially suggests that girls are struggling with anxiety more than boys are, it’s unknown if this is just because traditionally females are more likely to open up about their problems and seek help compared to boys.
What’s causing a rise in anxiety amongst children?
The life and experiences of children have changed considerably over the last 30 to 40 years. It’s likely that a combination of modern-day realities has contributed towards the rise in the number of children who suffer from anxiety and other mental illnesses.
Higher divorce rates
It’s not uncommon for parents to separate and many children come from homes where their parents are no longer together. This can cause anxiety for children for a number of reasons:
- They’re struggling to come to terms with their mum and dad not being together
- They may blame themselves for the separation
- Witnessing parents arguing can be traumatic for children
- Divorce is life-changing not just for the couple involved but for children as well. They have to get used to only having one parent around all the time and they may have to move house and/or school
- Siblings are sometimes separated as a result of divorce
- They might miss the parent they’re no longer living with full-time
- It can be unsettling dividing their time between two parents and two different houses
- Children may struggle to accept a new partner
Social media has long been cited as one of the biggest culprits of rising anxiety levels amongst children, teenagers and even adults in the UK.
With young and impressionable children being able to access all sorts of images as well as being constantly bombarded with photos of people looking ‘perfect’, children simply cannot escape the pressures of feeling like they need to look good at all times.
As well as body image issues, social media pages contribute to a number of other problems including:
- Children may worry how many ‘friends’ they have and how many likes they get when they post a status or a photo
- They may feel bad about themselves if they see people were invited to a gathering that they weren’t
- It’s easy to fall victim to bullying or mean comments online
- There’s no escape - people feel like they’re constantly on show
- They may feel added pressure to try and be funny or clever
Children may feel anxious about going to school, completing schoolwork, the friendships they have or bullying. The likelihood of any of these occurring increases dramatically when a child starts a new school or moves up a year.
If children are struggling to cope at school, they may be too afraid to speak up and, as a result, could end up falling behind in their work. They may also be struggling to get on with a particular teacher, they could be worried about upcoming exams, feel too much pressure from their parents to perform well, or they could have fallen out with a friend or feel like they don’t fit in. Shy or introverted children may be particularly vulnerable to any of these feelings.
What are the signs of anxiety?
If you’re a parent or a teacher and are worried about anxiety, some of the most common signs to look out for include:
- Difficulty understanding or expressing feelings
- Becoming irritable, tearful or clingy
- Difficulty sleeping, waking up in the night, wetting the bed or having bad dreams
- Lack of confidence
- Being unable to face simple, everyday challenges
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with eating
- Becoming prone to angry outbursts
- Having negative thoughts or worrying that bad things are going to happen
- Avoiding everyday activities such as going to school, participating in activities or seeing friends
If you think that your child could be suffering from anxiety, please feel free to visit our Depression and Anxiety Treatment Programme page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments which are available.