New mental health guidelines for schools

Thursday 31 January 2013 23.13
The Government said schools have a key role to play in supporting children
The Government said schools have a key role to play in supporting children

The Government has published new national guidelines on mental health and suicide prevention in second level schools.

It is estimated that one in ten children and teenagers experience mental health problems.

The Government said schools have a unique role to play in supporting them.

Copies of the new guidelines will be sent to schools in the coming weeks.

They include ten "key strategic actions" that schools should undertake.

Among them is fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness in schools by developing and maintaining a safe and caring environment, as well as implementing well-planned social, personal and health education, and relationship and sexuality programmes.

The guidelines also say schools should encourage students to engage in extra-curricular activities.

Students should also have easy access to information on supports available to them both within and outside schools.

They say young people and their parents should be actively involved in developing and implementing schools’ mental health policies.

The guidelines have been developed by the Department of Education, the HSE and the Department of Health.

In a statement, the director of the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention, Gerry Raleigh, said the guidelines presented the existing elements of good practice that schools should have in place in an integrated way.

However, the Institute for Guidance Counsellors has said budget cuts have led to a "totally disjointed" counselling service in Irish schools.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, IGC PRO Betty McLaughlin described the new guidelines as "a code for nobody's responsibility".

She said that while the institute welcomed the renewed commitment and the interdepartmental approach, the scheme is "a safety net and there are lots of holes in that net".

"When the children fall through the net there will be nobody there to pick them up," she said.

Speaking on the same programme, Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch said the guidelines require that everyone in a school be trained to help a child in distress.

She said: "What we want them to do is take a whole school approach.

"You know, the guidance counsellors, the great work that they did, but nevertheless one person in the school is just not good enough, it must be everyone in the school and not just the teaching staff.

"We're talking about the caretakers, the ladies and men who come in to clean the school. It's a whole of school approach."

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