MORE than 5,000 youngsters are suffering from mental illness in Southampton, new figures reveal today.

A joint council-NHS study showed that 5,500 children aged five to 16 and living in the city are struggling with disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

And now Southampton City Council has been handed a huge boost in its efforts to protect at-risk youths from developing similar problems.

The city council is the first authority in the south to receive £500,000 funding for a one-year project to safeguard 10-to-14-year-olds.

And if successful it could lead to a £10m deal for a five-year project.

Southampton was targeted for the Big Lottery Fund ‘HeadStart’ scheme after the Public Health Southampton assessment revealed the full extent of the problems.

And those illnesses are having a major impact as Southampton hospital admissions for self harm are higher than the national average.

The HeadStart funding is part of a £75m national scheme spread across 12 cities in England.

It came after a YouGov national survey revealed 45 per cent of children aged 10-14 have reported being unable to sleep because of stress, with 59 per cent saying they feel worried or sad at least once a week.

And according to the survey just 25 per cent of children who need mental health treatment actually receive it and usually not until age 18.

The partners will go into three city secondary schools – Cantell, Redbridge and Chamberlayne - for lessons on how to tackle stigma around mental health.

They will also work with feeder Polygon and Compass primary schools to make transition between primary and secondary smoother.

Other measures include peer mentoring schemes and mental health ‘first aid’ training to spot early signs of problems developing.

Ruth Evans, headteacher at Cantell, said: "The HeadStart project provides a fantastic opportunity for schools to be part of a city wide initiative to build young peoples' emotional resilience.

"We are very excited to have been chosen as a lead school, developing a programme of additional care and support for students who may be anxious about the transition from primary to secondary school.”

Ewan Scott, headteacher at Chamberlayne, added: “We are hoping this will give us the tools to help our children and their families settle into their school life and classes on a day-by-day basis and feel happier about themselves.”

Partners in HeadStart include Southampton Voluntary Services, Solent NHS Trust, the University of Southampton, counselling charity No Limits and the Saints Foundation.

David Collins, acting Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service manager at Solent and clinical lead for the HeadStart project, added it would be a huge boost for the city.

He said: “Early recognition of problems and timely help will mean that children and young people can be supported at school and in the community and so help to avoid admission to the city’s CAMHS services.”

The project will be rolled out in September for the start of the autumn term in schools.