Health plea after spate of suicides

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Emotional wellbeing must be covered in lessons, says Bridgend learning director.

Schools must be committed to encouraging the emotional health of all their pupils to reduce suicide rates, said a director of learning in a county borough where seven young people have taken their lives in a year.

Trained teacher Hilary Anthony, director of learning for Bridgend, refused to comment on alleged links between the apparent suicide of 17-year-old Natasha Randall, found hanging earlier this month, and social networking websites said to "romanticise" death. Police are now investigating.

However, Ms Anthony, who has worked with young people with emotional and behaviour problems, spoke of plans for a suicide prevention strategy in the country borough following a spate of actual and attempted suicides, with possible links between peer groups and macabre websites.

Children's services, local schools and police in Bridgend are working on ways of preventing mental problems escalating in young people as the area was labelled a suicide hot spot by experts.

Increased focus on teaching emotional literacy as part of the personal and social education curriculum is already being seen as having a key role in the strategy.

Ms Anthony said: "The difficulty is that it isn't possible to target individuals and say these young people may commit suicide.

"I think the strategy needs more work on the preventative element. PSE could play a key role."

She said lessons should be used to explain that advice is out there for young people who find it difficult to express their feelings.

"Hardly any of the young people in these cases were in schools, but any pupil might find things difficult to deal with in later years. Schools should be committed to encouraging emotional health."

Meanwhile, calls for one teacher in every school to be trained in suicide awareness, a response to high suicide rates in some South Wales areas, were welcomed by Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon.

She said the scheme, already up and running by mental health charity Mind Cymru, would give schools a "wider understanding" of the problem. Ms Moon, a former teacher and social worker, also called for '"emotional education".

"I'd like PSE to play a far greater part," she said. "Emotional pain can be as strong as the physical. You can't take a pill to deal with it, you have to learn to cope with the world you're coming into."

But Gareth Jones, recently retired head and secretary of the Flintshire branch of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "Schools already provide a significant support network for young people. I think they need to experience pressure so they can cope later on."

Alan Briscoe, manager of Mind Cymru's ASIST training project, described the suicide awareness programme as "a form of suicide first aid, encouraging young people to talk about their feelings".

Dr Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist already working for the Government in reviewing harmful material on the internet and TV, is reported to be part of the investigation team to probe high rates of suicide in Bridgend and the surrounding areas, such as Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf, which have been identified as "suicide clusters".

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