The number of WA children under 12 contacting the Kids Helpline has jumped more than 50 per cent in just 12 months and now makes up almost one in five calls, figures reveal.
A report released yesterday shows that 1325 WA children between five and 12 called the free phone counselling service last year, up from 873 in 2014.
“That’s a significant jump,” Kids Helpline counselling centre manager Tony FitzGerald said.
The report shows 18 per cent of WA callers to the helpline were aged five to 12, compared with a lower rate of 11 per cent nationally.
Mr FitzGerald attributed some of the increase to the work the service had done with schoolchildren, with counsellors speaking to students in classrooms via video conferencing sessions.
“That could very well have increased awareness of the service among that age group,” he said.
Last year, 21 per cent of contacts from all age groups in WA were about mental health concerns. Other reasons for seeking advice included family problems and bullying.
“WA mirrors the rest of Australia in terms of the reasons why young people would be contacting us, so mental health concerns is number one,” Mr FitzGerald said.
Younger children who called were often grappling with low-level issues such as anxiety.
“Occasionally we do see more serious stuff around suicide and self-harming, but that tends to be more prevalent in the 13 to 18 years age group than in the five to 12 years,” he said.
“Our focus for that five to 12 age group is about early intervention and prevention.”
About 7 per cent of calls from WA children were about school bullying, compared with 6 per cent nationally.
Mr FitzGerald said younger children were more worried about bullying in the school playground. Those aged over 13 were more likely to have concerns about cyber bullying and other social media problems.
Calls from teenagers about sexting — sending sexual photos or messages or videos — had increased in the past few years.
“It’s not quite a cultural norm, but not far off it,” Mr FitzGerald said. “It’s become part of the ritual for young people, which is an interesting area because it’s still a criminal offence.”
This article first appeared on ‘The West Australian’ on 25 May 2016.