EXCLUSIVE: Dame Esther Rantzen says children with mental illness will get help

Dame Esther Rantzen NNL-180613-111154001
Dame Esther Rantzen NNL-180613-111154001

Children suffering mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, bullying and abuse have been assured they will be given help.

Following on from the paper’s reports of a growing mental health crisis among our young people, Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen gave an exclusive interview this week to the Banbury Guardian to talk of the help available.

Recognising the valuable role of local papers in the community she said she wanted to reach out to those affected by mental health issues and appealed to young people suffering emotionally to visit the charity’s website – childline.org.uk

“We do online counselling, real-time ‘chat’, children can send us emails and we have a message board where young people help other young people,” she said.

“Children can call us on our freephone number 0800 1111 and speak to a counsellor. The calls will not appear on any bill.

“It’s a very varied service. It has changed hugely and the nature of the problems have changed hugely.”

Dame Esther said at first, most calls to Childline involved sexual abuse – ‘the great taboo’. For some years after, bullying was the major concern but with the advent of the internet and social media, new problems have emerged.

Echoing what headteachers told the paper in our earlier reports, she said: “Now it is also about other kinds of abuse, sexual, physical and emotional.

“We now have cyber bullying and sexting, peer-on-peer sexual abuse.

“But the other huge rise in calls and the severity of the calls are young people with suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression.”

The paper’s reports have highlighted the wide range of ages affected by mental health issues and Dame Esther said Childline, part of the NSPCC, offered support in various ways.

Its website is a resource where young people can use several helpful systems, from email help to a toolkit of videos, the message board and their own personal log.

For those who want to talk, she said: “They can ring, knowing nothing they say is going to be passed on but they are talking to someone who really cares about them.

“They are talking to a trained volunteer who is listening to many young people.

“They are not going to be judged; they’re not going to be told it’s their own fault or they’re to blame.

“They’re certainly not going to be told to pull themselves together.

“They’re going to be told we understand how difficult it is to reach out for help and that we commend them for their bravery.”

The Banbury Guardian’s reports have highlighted the pressure on services and Dame Esther said more resources are needed to allow troubled children to get the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) they need.

She said: “More resources are needed. The NSPCC is putting pressure on the government for more resources.

“It has gone to the Department of Health to talk to them about the work Childline is doing because so many people are using us as they can’t have the clinical help (they need) as it just isn’t available.

“Mental illness destroys lives and destroys the lives of future generations.

“When I was writing my book, Running Out of Tears, for Childline’s 25th anniversary, I spoke to 12 people who had used Childline because I wanted to know whether it had actually made a difference. They said it had transformed their lives.

“I asked how talking to a total stranger had transformed their lives and they said when you’ve been wrestling with a problem that seems insoluble and someone says to you firstly it’s not your fault, which you thought it was, secondly things can change, and you thought they couldn’t and thirdly we’re not going to intervene; catastrophe’s not going to fall on your head, we’re just going to talk about the ways things could be improved, it gave them hope - and hope is what makes life worth living.

“When I looked at what those 12 people were doing I realised I was talking to a social worker, a teacher, a nurse, someone who worked with adult survivors in prisons, someone who set up a charity for adult survivors, a couple of fundraisers - in other words they were all giving back.

“They had never forgotten the help they received and they wanted to help others. Save the children - save other children.

“There is an upward spiral as well as a downward spiral. If you can actually help people effectively they will pass that help on.

“We know about the downward spiral and it’s tragic. But it’s not inevitable. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Childline had nearly 300,000 counselling contacts last year – some of those would be more than one contact with a child.

It says the total is more than any equivalent helpline in the world.