Belfast Telegraph

Mental health scheme rescued my son from a dark place, says mum as alarm grows over the pressures facing our young people

Cathal McCann with his mum Mandy
Cathal McCann with his mum Mandy

By Mark McConville

A Co Down mum has praised a children's charity for saving her son's life as experts warned of a childhood mental health "crisis".

Mandy McCann, from Ballynahinch, said that her son Cathal (16) "wouldn't even be here today" if it wasn't for Action for Children.

She said that Cathal had become "very low in himself" and "very distant" around six months ago, and while the family knew something was wrong he couldn't talk to them about it.

Action for Children's Blues Programme came to Cathal's school and identified him as someone needing help.

Mandy said: "It was scary to read what Cathal wrote in the Blues Programme questionnaire. He said he was in a dark place and he hated himself and didn't like the look of himself.

"He had been self-harming as well because something was hurting him inside. The doctor had told us to keep an eye on him and it was like 24-hour care.

"He has turned a new leaf with this programme and he's got his confidence back. We have a deeper bond than before and he knows he's loved and supported."

A survey of 5,000 youngsters and adults carried out by Action for Children and YouGov in the UK found that two-thirds of parents and grandparents felt childhoods were getting worse and a third of children agreed.

All said bullying - online and offline - was the main problem, followed by pressure to fit in, which has intensified in the age of social media.

Cathal was helped with his mental health by Action for Children after struggling with the pressures of social media.

He said: "I've been in low places and I just want to make sure that I never get in that state again.

"I just didn't like anything about myself. It is so hard with social media and peer pressure to look perfect.

"We're all expected to one-up one another and it makes everything more stressful. I think it stopped me enjoying being a kid.

"In school we have so much pressure too, and exams are everything. You feel that if you fail them, your whole life is over."

The research also revealed adults were unaware of how much children worried about school pressures, while they significantly underestimated their fears surrounding violent crime, terrorism and their mental health.

Action for Children, which is celebrating its 150th year of supporting vulnerable youngsters, today launched its campaign, Choose Childhood, which calls on the government to establish a National Childhood Strategy.

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