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Northern Ireland children counselled for eating disorders driven by mental health and body image worries

NSPCC eating disorders

  • Across the UK, thousands of children struggling with mental health difficulties are also seeking help for eating problems
  • More than 120 counselling sessions carried out in 2017/18 with children from Northern Ireland worried about body image and eating problems

Body image concerns and mental health difficulties are fuelling a rise in the number of young people contacting Childline about eating disorders, new NSPCC figures reveal today.

Across the UK, Childline, the service provided by the NSPCC, carried out 5,934 counselling sessions* about eating disorders and eating problems – the equivalent to 16 a day – with children in 2017/18, up 22 per cent since 2016/17.

There were 121 counselling sessions* with children from Northern Ireland carried out in 2017/18.

These findings come as the NSPCC’s “Are You There?” campaign is calling on the UK 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 judgement, which is why Childline is such a crucial service for these thousands of children.”

Dame Esther Rantzen, Childline Founder and President 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.   The fashion and beauty industries must also be aware of the vulnerable young people who aspire to what they see on social media.

“Childline is there for these young people, and we offer support which we hope will enable them to recover and go on to live healthy lives. But 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.  

“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.Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk

Calum Best teams up with the NSPCC and Childline to promote ‘positive mindful thinking’

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