Children seeking help 'tripled'
The number of children in Northern Ireland seeking help for depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts has more than tripled this year, a new report has revealed.
Between April last year and March 2011 staff on ChildLine's free helpline counselled 2,664 children, compared with just 757 for the previous the 12 months.
The figures were released in advance of the organisation's 25th anniversary and followed the launch of a special online service which allows children to make contact via email or through one-to-one "chat" sessions. More than 60% of the 2,664 contacts were made online, the report said.
Elaine Chalmers, head of ChildLine in Northern Ireland, said: "Most children who contact us online are deeply troubled. It's not yet clear if more children are suffering mental health problems, or if they simply find it easier to discuss them online.
"By developing our online service we can reach out to more of these very troubled children who are struggling to cope with complex problems that are blighting their lives, and may not have contacted us without this new service."
One girl who made contact with ChildLine online was just 15 and feared becoming addicted to drugs like her brother.
She said: "Mum has kicked me out because she has a new boyfriend. I have to live with my dad now but I don't like it there because he's scary and shouts at me. He tells me I was a mistake. I just don't want to live anymore."
Another girl, aged 14, said: "I feel like I need to take an overdose because it's the least painful way. My life isn't worth living. No-one takes me seriously and I can't talk to anyone."
Almost 65,000 counselling sessions held throughout the UK last year were devoted to family difficulties and bullying.
Esther Rantzen, the charity's founder, said: "Eight suicidal children contact ChildLine every single day. The fact is, ChildLine saves lives and brings abusers to justice. But it could not do any of this without its dedicated supporters and volunteers. Without them, not one child would have been helped."