The NSPCC is launching its landmark Childhood Day to give young people a brighter future as it reports a rise in Childline contacts from children under 12 in Scotland about mental health issues.

During the pandemic, Childline held 243 counselling sessions with children of this age group about their mental and emotional health, compared with 207 sessions in the previous year – an increase of 17%.

Now the NSPCC is asking families and friends to celebrate childhood by organising a play event on June 11th to raise money for the charity and help keep more children safe.

Since April last year, Childline has carried out a total of 3,664 counselling sessions with children in Scotland about their mental or emotional health. In 1,748 mental health-related counselling sessions young people mentioned anxiety or stress; in 1,006 they discussed low mood; in 569 they talked about confidence issues; and in 496 they spoke about depression. Mental health has remained the top reason young people have got in touch with Childline, with these four issues ranking as the most commonly discussed topics. In over 200 counselling sessions, children in Scotland talked of their worries about the world, which is more than a two-fold increase from the previous year (81).

Over the past year, councillors have heard from children attempting to navigate the closure of schools, the introduction and easing of lockdowns, concerns about the virus and social isolation.

At the start of the pandemic the change in daily routines, being stuck at home and the removal of professional support from schools caused great worry and anxiety in young people, particularly those who were already coping with other issues in their lives.

The start of the year and the January lockdown presented another particularly challenging time for young people, as COVID death rates rose and schools closed down for a second time.

The charity’s Childline volunteer counsellors, as well as supporters and partners worked incredibly hard to ensure the service could stay open and young people had somewhere to turn. Analysis of Childline’s online services shows many children have taken proactive steps to support their emotional wellbeing during this time.

Now, as lockdown continues to ease, the charity is calling on people everywhere to play their part in giving children a great summer and brighter future – as it launches its landmark Childhood Day with a new film that encourages people to sign up.

Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline, said: “Throughout this pandemic, children and young people have had to deal with so many difficult new challenges, many knowing that their families were struggling with health worries and financial issues, some locked down in unsafe homes, deprived of their schools which may have been their only refuge. Many have told Childline that they have struggled to cope and their mental health has suffered as a result.

“Childline’s counsellors have been tremendously impressed by the resilience of so many young people during the pandemic, supporting themselves and each other. Nevertheless, we are all only too aware that not only education has suffered, but so has the opportunity to play. My grandchildren have told me how much they have missed their friends during lockdown. Play is such an important part of childhood, building confidence and creating relationships.

“After the year we’ve had, I am really looking forward to joining my own family on Childhood Day. I do hope as many families as possible will be able to do the same, to enjoy each other’s company and have fun and play together.

“I want to remind children everywhere that Childline is always there for them, no matter how big or small their problem, offering comfort and support which is free, confidential, on the phone or online.”

NSPCC supporter Dr Ranj Singh said: “Young people have experienced so many different challenges to their mental health this year. Lots will have played less because they’ve been stuck at home, but as restrictions ease and opportunities for play increase it’s important we recognise its benefits.

“Play can help children work through difficult emotions, encounter new experiences and build resilience, confidence and self-esteem. In light of this, I’m backing the NSPCC’s Childhood Day and encouraging families up and down the country to get playing on the 11th of June.”

Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy told Childline: “I’m feeling really sad and upset that I can’t spend time with friends and play with them because of another lockdown. I’m not returning to school for another 5 or 6 weeks and the news about the number of deaths from COVID-19 has made me more scared. I don’t feel like I can tell my mum how I feel inside as it will upset her.”