The Abingdon Herald 27th December 2017
A surge in the number of people using an Abingdon mental health charity has seen three people added to its waiting list every week.
Young people are referred to The Abingdon Bridge (TAB) by doctors or schools or can refer themselves.
The charity's manager, Gary Hibbins, said there had been a surge in demand for counselling and support across the Vale of White Horse District Council area.
Mr Hibbins said: "We are the only free service in the area so we are getting a lot of referrals from outside of Abingdon from places like Wantage, Didcot and Faringdon as well."
Bridge Street-based charity TAB offers a space for teenagers and young adults struggling with emotional issues to find independent confidential counselling support and advice.
Last year, TAB held more than 1,000 sessions for about 100 young people aged 13 to 25, covering everything from counselling and drug awareness to housing and employment advice.
Mr Hibbins said winter, and particularly Christmas, could be a particularly difficult time for young people suffering from anxiety and depression, though the challenges they face have been slightly altered by the way society has changed in recent years.
He explained: "One of the big things we are trying to focus on in 2018 is building up digital resilience in teenagers and young adults because we are seeing the damaging effect social media can have on their self-esteem and confidence.
"Over Christmas I am sure a lot of young people will be getting new phones and other devices that give them access to the internet, and during the winter break they will have more free time to be drawn into the unrealistic expectations seen on Instagram and Snapchat."
"Our goal is to make them realise that they don't have to rely on likes online to feel good about themselves but need to develop self-esteem as individuals so they do not feel bad about themselves because of they way people portray their lives on social media."
The charity, created in the 1990s, was given a welcome boost in September when it was announced it would be receiving a grant worth of about £86,000 from Children in Need.
Over the next three years the money will fund two specialist counsellors to create an early intervention service, called The ABC Project, which will include one-to-one sessions and group work for young people facing problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and abuse.
But Mr Hibbins said the funding had specific conditions attached to it and so could not be used to help the young adults aged over 18 who attend the centre.
He added: "These young people really need help too, to get them into training and employment. With so many people needing our help it means it is even more important that we continue to see funding going into our service at every level."
More information about the charity is available via theabingdonbridge.org.uk.