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A third of children in Britain have had suicidal thoughts

Shocking figures released to mark the launch of mental-health group and its counselling website

Nearly a third of young people have contemplated or attempted suicide, according to a report revealing the scale of the mental health problems afflicting young people.

The study found that one in five young people were depressed during childhood, with pressure from schoolwork, fear of the future and lack of confidence all cited as factors.

The taboo over mental health is preventing children from getting the help they need, and a lack of services is placing a generation at risk of suicide and self-harm, according to the report.

Research showed that 32 per cent of young Britons have had suicidal thoughts, while a similar proportion (29 per cent) of young adults deliberately harmed themselves as teenagers. And more than one in 10 (12 per cent) felt a failure almost every day when they were under 16.

Based on research of the experiences of more than 2,000 16- to 25-year-olds across Britain, the study is being released to mark the launch of a new mental-health organisation.

MindFull, an offshoot of the BeatBullying charity, is backed by clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron, Labour leader Ed Miliband, and child-protection expert Professor Eileen Munroe. It will work with schools to educate young people on how to cope with mental-health issues, and has created a website to give free, confidential counselling for 11- to 17-year-olds.

Issues around anxiety, stress and body image lead to poor emotional wellbeing, leaving children less able to cope. Unchecked, this can spiral into acute, long-term mental illness, says the report, Alone with my thoughts.

“We are at risk of failing a generation of young people,” it warns. A “transformation in the way we address young people’s mental health” is needed, and its recommendations include mental-health lessons as part of the national curriculum, counselling in schools, and improved services which address the needs of children and are focussed on “early intervention”.

Of the 850,000 young people with a diagnosable mental-health problem, almost 75 per cent get no treatment, says the report. And for those who do, cuts to mental-health services often mean they don’t receive the long-term, intensive treatment they need. Too many children are “being let down or simply ignored,” said Emma-Jane Cross, founder and chief executive of MindFull. “It’s unacceptable that so many are having to resort to harming themselves on purpose in order to cope, or worse still are thinking about ending their own lives.”

And Lucie Russell, director of policy, YoungMinds, said: “These shocking statistics highlight what YoungMinds has been saying for many years – that... young people’s mental health is a vital issue that must be prioritised.”

Mental health should be given the same importance as physical health, according to Professor Byron. Welcoming the new mindfull.org website, she said: “Teenagers naturally look to the internet as a source of information and advice, so that’s where we need to be in order to help the hundreds of thousands of young people who are getting no support.”

And Barbara Rayment, chair of the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, said: “As a society we have taken many steps to ensure the increased physical health of our young people, we now need to ensure we make as good an investment in their mental health.”

Case studies

‘You feel like no one can help’

Sophie Harajda, 18, Wigan

I started suffering from depression when I was 15. I had a difficult home-life and was forced to move out of my parents’ home to live with a friend when I was 17. Last year the depression became overwhelming and I tried to take my own life on several occasions. I locked up how I felt and I couldn’t talk to anyone. You feel like you are in a box and you scream and scream but no one can hear you, no one can help. It was when I came across online counselling through BeatBullying that I managed to get support. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

‘It’s difficult to speak out’

Aidan McNulty, 17, London

When I was 15 I became very anxious and depressed after a health scare. I convinced myself I was suffering from a brain tumour after weeks of headaches and feeling ill. Every day I was crying I didn’t want to tell my friends and family.

Eventually I admitted to my family how I was feeling and they were very supportive. They encouraged me to go to my GP and after several visits I was reassured about my health. However I feel that young people find it very difficult to speak out.