Modern World Driving Children to Despair

11/09/2015 11:17 BST | Updated 09/09/2016 10:12 BST

Every year the NSPCC shines a spotlight on the troubles children choose to contact us about via ChildLine. This year the glare starkly exposes the growing number wanting to share a broad range of mental wellbeing problems.

In 1995 around one per cent of calls - just over 1000 - to ChildLine were on issues like loneliness, low self-esteem, depression and mental health. Turn the clock forward 20 years and the figure has risen astronomically to over 85,000, or roughly one in every three contacts to our 24-hour service.

With the ever expanding world of social media many children are finding it increasingly difficult to find a safe haven. Mobile phones and tablets allow bullies to stay close, bombarding their victims round-the-clock. Pressure to do well at school, to have sex and to look like celebrities is ever increasing.

And while this is bad enough more than 5000 of those who talked to our counsellors last year about self-harm, depression and even suicide had also been abused in some form. Yet an increasing number of these children couldn't access the vital services they need to help them rebuild their childhoods.

They told how they are frequently faced with lengthy waiting lists to get a scarce place on one of the programmes offered by a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). This delay only increased their anxiety, leaving them frightened that they wouldn't be able to cope. And while advances in technology mean their world never shuts down some discovered to their horror that the services they needed only seemed to work nine-to-five.

This lack of support means they often turn to ChildLine as a last resort because there is simply no other help available to them.

One teenager told one of our counsellors that her struggles to get help had left her alone and deeply worried about her mental health. Her doctor had referred her to CAMHS but eight months later she was still waiting to hear if she would get an appointment.

Ensuring these children get help as soon as possible is obviously crucial for them. But it also benefits us all.

It's well recognised that the cost of untreated mental health issues is vast not only from an emotional perspective but a financial one too. It has a huge impact on the health system, the job market, and society as a whole. Ignoring young people's distress now is simply laying the foundations for future problems.

While all of this may paint a bleak picture we have the ability to perhaps, if not entirely to wipe the canvas clean, then at least add a few bright areas.

At the NSPCC we will continue to listen and offer support to the many troubled children who contact us, like the young boy suffering depression who learned how to help himself after speaking to our counsellors and is now guiding a friend through the same troubles.

It's clear that every child suffering from a mental health issue - particularly those whose problems have been triggered by abuse - must be able to easily, and swiftly, access support that acknowledges and understands their needs in a manner they can relate to.

But this is not simply a case of calling for more investment in services - although that of course would help. We all have a role to play in child protection, even if it's just listening to a troubled youngster, particularly now that so many seem willing to talk about this issue.

As one girl who had suffered years of sexual abuse said: "My message to parents of young people who they believe might be self-harming is talk to them and listen to what they say to you. You need to prepare yourself for what you may uncover, but don't be angry or upset, be supportive and show them how much you love them."