School mental health guide published
Mental health and suicide prevention in schools “is not about going to one person anymore”, Minister of State for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch said this morning.
Ms Lynch was speaking at the joint launch by the Department of Health and the Department of Education of new national mental health guidelines for schools.
The 10-point guidelines, due to be posted to second level schools this week, are to help every school staff member to recognise and support pupils, one in 10 of whom experience mental health disorders as children and teenagers.
“Whether it’s the caretaker, the person serving the food, the guidance counsellor, the principal, the teacher or the classroom assistant,” said Ms Lynch, responding to the mental health issues of pupils was “the business of everyone in the school”.
However, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors has described the guidelines as “a code for nobody’s responsibility”.
Describing suicidal behaviour among young people was “a major public health concern”, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said the guidelines were about “trying to do more with less”.
Put to him that existing school guidance counsellors, already professionally trained to assist pupils, could do this job if properly resourced, Mr Quinn said while guidance counsellors provide advice in relation to career options, “they are not necessarily the first person in the school community to notice a change in the pupil”.
The Minister said “specialists were put into silos” in the past. He said while guidance counsellors remained central to the provision of support and counselling, “we see a role for the maths teacher, the English teacher, the PE teacher if some young person’s behaviour starts to change dramatically”.
Extending his sympathies to the families of young people who have died by suicide, he said the programme was about “mobilising the entire school community to prevent the tragedies that have happened in the past”.
Director of the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, Gerry Raleigh, who co-funded the guidelines, said his office would play a role in training teachers to react to students in crisis. The office has a staff of six and a lifespan until 2014.
Regional Director of the National Educational Psychology Service, Margaret Grogan said the service, which currently employs 15 fewer psychologists than its full allocation of 185, would also support schools to implement the guidelines.
Founding director of Headstrong, Tony Bates welcomed the guidelines. He said the approach, which reflected that of his charity, would “strengthen the significant capacity of the school community to promote and enhance their young people’s mental health. “We know that one in 10 children and teenagers experience mental health difficulties and that early detection and intervention leads to better outcomes.”
Chair of the Children’s Mental Health Coalition, Colm O’Gorman said the guidelines now needed to translate into action.“Schools will need training and support to implement the whole school approach and the Department of Education will need to assign senior responsibility to ensure that the relationship and referral process between schools and other agencies is developed in a coherent manner.”