Funding plea as charity counsels children over body image issues
Children in Northern Ireland received more than 120 counselling sessions last year due to worries about body image and eating problems, according to the NSPCC.
New figures released by the organisation show that these mental health difficulties are fuelling a rise in the number of young people contacting Childline.
Across the UK, the service provided by the NSPCC carried out 5,934 counselling sessions about eating disorders and eating problems - the equivalent of more than 16 a day - with children in 2017/18, up 22% since 2016/17. This included 121 counselling sessions with children in Northern Ireland.
These findings come as the NSPCC's 'Are You There?' campaign is calling on the Government to provide funding to Childline so it can help more children and teenagers struggling with mental health issues.
One 15-year-old girl told Childline: "I compare myself to other people every day and how they have a better figure to me.
"I noticed that I was slightly bigger than some of the girls in my school and seeing people on social media didn't help either.
"It has led to me watching weight loss videos and saving pictures of people who have the body I wish I had.
"At one point I was watching and comparing myself to people who have anorexia.
"I have tried starving myself and exercising so that I can become skinny all over.
"I feel like the odd one out and that everywhere I go I am being looked at and judged."
NSPCC head of Childline Liz Rowe said: "Young people tell us that they feel under pressure to look a certain way and live a certain life and it's worrying that we are seeing so many children contact us about eating disorders as a result, in some cases when they are still at primary school.
"It's crucial that all those struggling with such debilitating eating problems are given all the help they need to make a full recovery so that they can go on to enjoy their childhood and teenage years to the full.
"The starting point on that journey is to open up and talk to someone who can listen without judgment, which is why Childline is such a crucial service for these thousands of children."
Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen said: "Eating disorders are dangerous and can be lethal.
"Families are left watching helplessly as their children's lives are put at risk and it is crucial that these young people receive effective help.
"And we must ask ourselves the reason for this dangerous increase? Perhaps it is because an obsession with body shape has been created, forcing young people to try to be as skinny as the unnaturally photoshopped images in the media."
Dame Esther said that the fashion and beauty industries should also be aware of the vulnerability of young people who aspire to what they see on social media.
"At the moment we can only answer three out of four young people who turn to us for help, so we need funds so that we can expand our service to meet the demand," she added.
"In addition, the help we provide must be supplemented by mental health professionals, and we know how difficult it is for young people and families to access the counselling when they desperately need it."
Childline is available on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk