Childline ready to help hundreds of young NI people this Christmas
Childline volunteers in Northern Ireland are standing by to help hundreds of struggling young people over Christmas.
For many local children, the festive season can mean battling mental health issues, witnessing alcohol-fuelled domestic abuse between parents, and enduring emotional or physical abuse.
During the last Christmas and New Year period, over 900 counselling sessions were delivered from the NSPCC's Childline bases in Belfast and Foyle.
Almost a third delivered during this time dealt with mental or emotional health, with other young people asking for help in connection with suicidal feelings, family relationships and self-harm.
Karen Lismore, Childline's supervisor in Belfast, will be working on Christmas day.
"Children and young people can contact Childline at this time due to an increase in the emotional and/or physical abuse they are experiencing at home from parents who are feeling the financial pressures of Christmas, or because the young person is witnessing domestic violence between parents, fuelled by increasing alcohol consumption over the festive period," she said.
Helping to raise awareness of the help available is Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer.
The actor and ambassador for Childline - which has 12 bases across the UK - recently visited the London service at night.
"The calls that came in, to be quite honest, sideswiped me," she said.
"Within the first 25 minutes, there were two 'suicide' calls with counsellors helping the young people through the reoccurring thoughts that were haunting them."
Childline is the only service available to children and young people in crisis, whatever their worry, 24/7 over the Christmas holidays.
The charity shared the experience of one 13-year-old girl who contacted Childline during the night.
"I feel really down tonight. I have a counsellor who I see regularly and who I would usually go to for support but I will not be able to get hold of them because it is the Christmas holidays," she said.
"I was told I could speak to someone at Childline. I have anxiety and find it difficult to cope and have tried to kill myself before. I don't want to live but don't want to upset my family."
Limited resources, however, mean Childline is only available to help two in every three children that contact them in December and during the rest of the year.
The NSPCC Christmas Appeal 'Light for Childhood' is calling for donations and volunteers so Childline can be there for every child around the clock.
Dame Esther Rantzen is the Childline founder and president.
"Christmas is the time of year we think about children, and most of them are happy, excited and loved," she said.
"But many of the young people that contact Childline are unhappy, abused and neglected. One of them told me: 'Christmas is like looking through a window, seeing happy families warm and loved while you are standing outside in the dark and cold'.
"For some young people, Christmas can be the hardest time of year, when their problems feel magnified, making them even more isolated than ever.
"We must be there for every young person that needs us. But to achieve this we urgently need the public's help, which is why it is vital they support the NSPCC Christmas Appeal - Light for Every Childhood."
The charity say that £4 pays for Childline to answer a call with a child in need of support.
A full film of Natalie Dormer joining a Childline nightshift, and information how to donate, is available at www.nspcc.org.uk.