Lessons ordered to stop suicides

Anti-suicide lessons could be delivered by highly trained teachers as soon as children start school.

Isabella Kaminski

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Schools and teachers in Wales will be expected to take responsibility for young people's mental health under plans in the Assembly government's five-year anti-suicide strategy released this week.

The government's Pounds 10 million strategy, a reaction to the deaths of 23 young people in the county of Bridgend over a two-year period, aims to build on pupils' mental wellbeing on a par with academic achievement from the age of 4.

According to government figures, the rate of suicide among 15 to 19-year- olds is 13 a year. Overall suicide rates are higher in Wales than in England, but lower than Northern Ireland or Scotland.

But there has been a worrying rise in the number of under-19s admitted to hospitals in Wales after self-harming - 1,000 a year.

Officials hope the action plan, now open for public consultation, will lead to improved mental health and a reduction in tragic deaths in Wales that has courted controversial headlines worldwide.

The plans build on existing work with pupil wellbeing, starting at reception level and continuing into secondary schools.

Pupil wellbeing is already a linchpin of the foundation phase curriculum. The formation of the national school-based counselling strategy and plans to place a family nurse in every secondary are also seen as positive steps towards suicide prevention to complement teacher training.

But officials maintain young people need to be made more aware of the options available to them for the plans to work.

Sarah Morgan, PSE adviser for Newport, said personal and social education on suicide should be angled on prevention. "You can build self-esteem, discuss relationships, friends and family, and build up motivation levels. It's about developing pupils' communication skills so they can talk about their own feelings and ask for help."

Ms Morgan said it was particularly important for PSE teachers to be aware of mental health issues.

"If you open up the discussion to talk about emotional health you have got to be trained and prepared to deal with a disclosure about an individual," she said.

If the plans are approved, teachers will also be trained to identify the early signs of potential suicide and self-harm victims in order to get them help. Training will be a compulsory part of a teacher's continuous professional development.

Teachers and other professionals - including police, health and the prison service - may also have access to specialised training such as ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) an internationally- recognised programme developed in America.

Mental health charity MIND Cymru is training instructors to take courses from early next year.

David Evans, the secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said that funding will be crucial to the strategy and teachers will have to be comfortable undertaking the training.

The strategy also includes plans for a national 24-hour phoneline for young people, a text helpline and a national Samaritans co-ordinator in Wales.

Leading article, page 44.

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Isabella Kaminski

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