Childline workers in Aberdeen are urging children and young people not to “suffer in silence” over the festive period – as they prepare for an increase in calls.
Following the strain of lockdown, the service is expecting to be contacted for support as issues arise over Christmas.
As well as loneliness and isolation, workers say that home isn’t always the safest place for children who won’t be able to seek sanctuary at school.
Manager of the Aberdeen base, Leanne Ferries, said this year has been one of the busiest.
“This year has been really busy. A lot of support was reduced, especially with schools being shut.
“We have definitely seen an increase in calls, especially from people who are feeling isolated and lonely.
“I think there will be a spike in calls over Christmas – especially with it getting darker earlier and this contributing to a mood dip.”
Key worker status of parents adding to loneliness among young people
Although young people are spending more time on Zoom, not being able to see friends and family in person is having an impact and causing increased feelings of loneliness.
“It is good to reach out and speak to us – even if its just if they’re feeling lonely. It can make all the difference,” Ms Ferries said.
But the service also noted that with schools closed and more alcohol being consumed, home isn’t always the best place for children to be over Christmas.
Another common theme for young people reaching out was a fear of putting a strain on the NHS as key workers battle the pandemic but the service has been assuring children that they are not a burden for needing help and they should reach out.
Don’t believe all you see online, counsellors urge teens
With online connectivity posing many benefits during lockdown, Ms Ferries said that the potential dangers of being online all the time were sometimes overlooked.
As well as an increase in people struggling with negative body image, the service has concerns about online grooming and cyber bulling.
Ms Ferries added: “We’ve also been contacted by people really struggling with their mental health, eating disorders, low self-esteem and body image.
“They are constantly comparing themselves to other people online – the online world isn’t a real reflection of real life. There is a distorted image of how people look and that can result in a negative body image.”
Laura Appleton decided to volunteer with the service after becoming a mum as she wanted to make a difference to children’s lives.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation “valid”
She described the phone and internet service as a “lifeline” for many children.
“In my personal experience loneliness has been a factor in a number of calls during lockdown,” she said.
“Everything changed suddenly. Children were seeing relatives less and had parents who are key workers.
“We try and encourage them to talk to someone, an adult or a friend. Some feel like they’re the only ones who feel that way but they are not alone.”
As well as this, many children in blended families were unable to see a parent for months and this had a big impact on them.
Ms Appleton warned that isolation can also make it easier for a young person to be taken advantage of, and urged parents and carers to be vigilant and keep talking to their children.
Childline offers online chat for anyone who doesn’t have access to a phone or is afraid someone will hear them.
Ms Appleton added: “These feelings people have are real and they need to be acknowledged.
“Many are told ‘don’t worry about it, it’ll get better’ – these feelings of isolation and loneliness are valid.
“It doesn’t matter if someone else has it worse than you – you are allowed to be sad, angry and upset.”
Childine can be contacted on 0800 1111 or via an online chat between 7.30am and 3.30am every day.
Aberdeen team answers 165,000 calls in 15 years
Childine marked its 15th anniversary in Aberdeen last year.
Since opening in 2004, 165,000 calls from children and young people have been answered by counsellors about issues including bullying, mental health, isolation, family and relationships.
When the country went into lockdown in March, Childline volunteers were given key worker status so they could continue to provide support.
Since restrictive measures were first introduced almost 2,500 counselling sessions have been delivered with children in Scotland regarding loneliness and low self-esteem, among other mental and emotional health issues.
To find out more about volunteering with Childline Aberdeen or to sign up for an upcoming volunteer info meeting, visit: https://bit.ly/3lHcbjN.