Social media and exam stress drive surge in calls to suicide prevention helpline

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Exam stress and the pressures of social media have led to a surge in young people calling a suicide prevention helpline, charity bosses have said.

Children as young as 12 have contacted the Papyrus HopeLine in recent months, with concerns about fitting in at school and the recent phenomenon known as Fomo - fear of missing out - sparked by social media posts.

The current test season has seen a sharp rise in school and college students seeking help for suicidal thoughts and "serious" exam stress, amid concerns about their future and letting down their parents and teachers, the charity said.

Heather Dickinson, manager of Papyrus HopeLine UK, which attempts to prevent suicide in young people, told the Press Association that anecdotal evidence from the charity's call handlers suggested they had seen a noticeable increase.

She said: "In general, use of the service has gone up abut 30% and we've found exam stress is more prominent this year.

"We're getting more calls from younger children and parents of younger children as well, so we're not just talking about GCSEs and A-levels, we're also talking about younger children.

"It kicks off when they go to secondary school or university, but we are getting calls from younger people as well.

"Once we get into the older categories, it is more about GCSEs and university."

A pre-existing patchwork of problems - including fears about fitting in, relationships with peers, and the situation at home - adds to the stress of exams, Ms Dickinson said.

Teenagers and young people on social media increasingly experience a fear of being left out, with those in school and at university comparing themselves to other people's success, worrying about jobs and "getting on in the world".

Ms Dickinson said young Facebook users see others who seem to be coping or not worried about exams, which can trigger concerns about being left out of chats, being bullied and experiencing low confidence.

Exam stress is often the "last straw", she said.

The charity called on the Government to acknowledge that suicide "needs to be talked about" to spread awareness.

Ged Flynn, Papyrus chief executive, said: "It is critical that the incoming government recognises that this is a very serious issue, and honours the recent pledge made by the Prime Minister to increase support to mental services for young people. It is vital to the future of our country."

Despite the increased worry, Ms Dickinson said young people are now more self-aware and more likely to seek help.

She hailed wider conversations around mental health in recent times as "positive" in encouraging more young people to come forward and break the taboo surrounding suicide.

In recent weeks, high-profile campaigners such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have spoken out about their mental health experiences through the Heads Together campaign.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among men and women under 35 in the UK, with a reported four and a half deaths a day in 2015.

:: The Papyrus HopeLine UK can be reached on 0800 068 4141 or by text on 07786 209697.