File Image: IOL SOCIAL media sites have been blamed for a shocking rise in suicidal youngsters

SOCIAL media sites have been blamed for a shocking rise in suicidal youngsters seeking help from Childline, a new report says.

The round-the-clock helpline dealt with more than 22,000 contacts from young people who were tormented by thoughts of killing themselves in 2016-17 – equivalent to 62 counselling sessions a day, or one every 23 minutes.

The NSPCC said children as young as ten were reaching ‘crisis point’ – with unhappiness, anxiety and depression often fuelled by sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A total of 2,061 cases were so serious and harrowing that youngsters were deemed to be ‘actively suicidal’ – meaning they had written a note, given away treasured items or planned their death.

One 15-year-old boy told advisers: ‘I’ve been feeling down since a family member passed away.

‘I’ve been self-harming and drinking a lot as well. I know it’s bad but I’d rather be numb than sober. I often feel like dying is the only way to stop feeling like this.’ The ‘inescapable’ intrusion of social media, turbulent home lives, domestic abuse and school pressures were all triggers for the cries for help.

Childline founder and president Esther Rantzen also warned that the ‘fragmentation’ of traditional extended families meant children had fewer places to turn for help. She said: ‘What is it that is causing this deep unhappiness? Why are children feeling more suicidal than ever before?

‘Why is there an increase in all kinds of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders? What is it about the way we are treating our children that they feel so isolated that they turn to a helpline?

‘I asked our counsellors that question and very often they say: social media. They explained to me that the virtual reality conveys the impression that everybody is gloriously attractive, wonderfully funny, liked by like-minded people. By contrast, the experience of the individual child who has nobody in their life that they can trust.

‘The additional problem is that social media can be used to bully and harass and torture young people and bring pressures like sexting and online grooming. If only they have real relationships in their lives that can counteract this insidious harm.’

In a major survey earlier this year, children said social media firms were failing to protect them from online pornography and bullying.

Four out of five pupils reported being worried about inappropriate material on their smartphones and iPads, said the NSPCC.

Children as young as three should be taught how to stay safe online, a leading internet charity has suggested.

Parents should talk to their children about strangers on the web before they even start school, Caroline Hurst of Childnet said. ‘[It should start] the first time you give them an iPad and you leave them with YouTube,’ she said.

© Daily Mail