Children as young as nine in Milton Keynes are so stressed they are self-harming.
And even babies in the womb are absorbing stress from their parents to pave the way for a childhood riddled with anxiety.
In fact, three children out of every classroom in MK will probably be suffering a mental health issue right now.
The cause of the stress could be a domestic break-up, bullying, peer pressure abuse – or just simply dealing with the challenges of life.
But thanks to two remarkable women, a cuddly meerkat, and a grant from a city group, these shocking statistics could be stopped.
Sisters Julia Simmon-Collar and Ellie Collar both have years of experience of working with anxious children whose young brains literally cannot cope with what life throws at them.
Their company, Early Years SEN, was this month given £450 by MK Soup, a social enterprise scheme where people pay £5 for soup, listen to pitches for projects and award the winner the profits from the evening.
Julia and Ellie’s idea was to use the medium of theatre and animal characters to help MK primary school children learn to cope with stressful feelings.
“Self-harming is just a coping strategy. All of us have a ‘go to’ strategy for feelings we find difficult to handle, whether it’s reaching for a bottle of wine, chocolate, or staying up late bingeing on box sets,” said Julia.
“Most of my clients are between 11 and 25 years old, but I’ve seen cases of children as young as nine self-harming,” she added.
Meanwhile, Ellie specialises in even younger children who are stressed out -– and the biggest cause is witnessing domestic abuse.
She said:“Nurseries are seeking support for children as young as two with challenging behaviour emerging from living with domestic abuse. Babies in utero can be affected by their mother experiencing domestic violence as a result of her body chemistry being affected by the stress.”
Julia and Ellie’s theatre production will be based on a book by Jane Evans called Little MeerKat’s Big Panic.
It uses the characters of a meerkat to represent the ‘fight or flight’ anxious part of the brain, an elephant for the emotional and worrying part and a monkey to represent the logical, rational brain.
Through the characters’ actions, children can learn how to calm their brain when they feel anxious.
“We’ll be using sights, sounds, smells textures and music to bring the story to life and help them understand their anxiety and adopt a ‘first aid’ approach to difficult feelings,” said Julia, who is mum to three-year-old twin boys.