Begin suicide prevention work at 4

7th November 2008 at 00:00

Research has shown that children understand the concept of suicide at the age of 7 and many have already witnessed someone taking their own life on television, mostly on soap operas (page 1).

But in an age where innocence is being lost at an earlier age, children who decide to end their own lives are thankfully rare. In Wales there have been 13 suicides of 15 to 19-year-olds over the last year, but 1,000 cases of self-harm were reported in the same age group.

Teenage suicide in Wales has been brought to the fore by a spate in Bridgend earlier this year. What is apparent with the majority of these deaths is that close family and friends of many of the suicide victims were unaware of their morbid intentions. Indeed, there may not have been any sign; no cry for help.

That is why the Assembly government's anti-suicide strategy, that was published for consultation this week and aims to train teachers and other professionals to spot the signs of suicidal teens, is well meaning, but, in parts, sadly precarious.

What seems more sensible is the suggestion, also contained in the strategy, that schools concentrate on raising the standard of PSE lessons to help create a generation of well-adjusted young people able to cope with life's ups and downs from reception through to Year 13. This does not appear to need a great deal of specialist training or knowledge, simply a bit of empathy and a caring ethos.

The wellbeing of young children is one of the linchpins of the foundation phase for under-7s and, as they are increasingly exposed to the full and often harsh realities of life, their mental health is protected at an early age by good support networks outside their families, hailing from the classroom and backed up by professional national counselling services if needs be.

The pressures on Britain's children today may seem superficial compared to Victorian hardship and Third World countries today, but it is all relative. It seems the only way to stop a teen committing suicide if they are hell-bent on doing so is to prevent them getting to that dark place in the first instance. To that end suicide prevention work should begin when 4-year-olds start full-time school. It seems the foundation phase is already well on its way to fulfilling that goal.

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