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New national Guidelines on promoting positive mental health and suicide prevention in post-primary schools published

January 31, 2013

“Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools” important tool for schools

The Minister for Education and Skills, the Minister of State for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health and the Director of the National Office of Suicide Prevention launched new guidelines for mental health and suicide prevention for post-primary schools today (31st January).
Post-primary schools have a unique role to play in supporting the positive mental health and well-being of young people. They do this by creating caring environments, by educating young people about their health, and by providing support for those experiencing difficulty.
The Guidelines provide a clear framework, with information for schools and agencies supporting schools, on how to address issues of mental health promotion and suicide prevention. The Guidelines are for all members of the school community, boards of management and in-school management teams who play a central leadership role in mental health promotion. They will also be useful for the statutory and non-statutory partners, parents, parents’ associations, students, student councils, health and other personnel who are seeking an understanding of how to best work in and with schools.
It is estimated that one in ten children and teenagers experience mental health disorders which impact on their relationships and day-to-day coping skills. Many mental health problems emerge in childhood and early adolescence.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn T.D. said, “Young people learn more effectively if they are happy and feel supported in school. Building resilience and emotional well-being is crucial to their school progress and their success in life.
“The promotion of well-being and the prevention of suicidal behaviour among young people in Ireland is a major public health concern for the Government and these Guidelines will be an important tool is assisting schools to support our teenagers.”

Minister of State for Disability, Older People, Equality and Mental Health Kathleen Lynch T.D. commented, “Youth suicides and youth mental health are serious issues that need to be addressed urgently. It is vital that we support our young people in their social, emotional and mental health needs in order to ensure that they reach their potential and develop into happy well adjusted adults.
“We must ensure early detection of problems and timely intervention for any young person experiencing mental health difficulties, because we know that early intervention leads to the best health outcomes and reduces the likelihood of long term disability. I very much welcome the publication of these important guidelines which will be an important resource for schools in supporting the positive mental health of young people.”

Schools play a vital role in the promotion of positive mental health in young people. The “Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools: Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention” outline a whole-school model which was informed by the completion of an extensive literature review and consultation process.
A whole-school approach refers to an approach which goes beyond the learning and teaching in the classroom to pervade all aspects of school life. This includes involvement by students, teachers, principals, all other school staff, health personnel, school managers, school visitors and the wider school community who interact with the school.
The initial consultation process involved stakeholders from the voluntary and statutory sectors including teachers, principals, parents’ councils, school support services, young people and health professionals.

The Guidelines are divided into three main sections:

  • School Support for ALL provides a whole-school approach to mental health and suicide prevention.
  • School Support for Some specifically focuses on the early identification of a small number of young people or groups who are at risk of developing unhealthy patterns of behaviour or who are already showing early signs of mental health difficulties.
  • School Support for A Few outlines how schools can support young people with more complex or enduring needs relating to their mental and emotional well-being.

Schools are in a unique position to identify and support those who are experiencing distress and to provide an environment which encourages young people to bring to attention any incidents or issues of concern.
It is important to recognise that mental health and well-being are not the sole responsibility of schools. Parents and the wider school community also have complementary roles, each supporting the other.

Gerry Raleigh, the Director of the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, who co-funded the development of the Guidelines, commented, “I welcome the publication of the guidelines. The documents provide advice and information for all external agencies including the HSE, on how we can all work with schools in a safe and evidence-based way to support and develop the mental health and well-being of all young people.

He added “The fact that the guidelines were developed in partnership between the DES, the HSE and the DOH shows how no single agency alone can promote mental health and prevent suicide. We need to develop effective inter-agency relationships if we are to make a difference to suicide rates among young people in Ireland.”
It is important for schools to be aware of available services and supports in their communities. Young people with good school connectedness are less likely to experience subsequent mental health problems and are more likely to have good educational outcomes. School connectedness includes relationships with peers, adults, and learning.

The Guidelines present in an integrated way the existing elements of good practice, which schools should have in place. These include whole- school implementation of SPHE, a whole school guidance plan, which includes planning to deal with critical incidents. The HSE’s Health Promoting School Process (HSP) is also outlined and the Guidelines show how the HSP can be introduced to schools to complement existing good practice.
Copies of the Guidelines will be distributed to schools in the coming weeks.

They can be downloaded from: http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/Well_Being_PP_Schools_Guidelines.pdf
The Summary is available at: http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/Well_Being_PP_Schools_Guidelines_Summary.pdf

In response to Action 2.1 of Reach Out: National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention 2005-2014 (HSE, 2005), the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) interdepartmental committee established a sub-committee on mental health in 2009 to develop a mental health framework taking into account the views of stakeholders and relevant research. This subcommittee included representatives from the Department of Health and Children (DoHC), the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the Health Service Executive (HSE). Funding was provided by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and the Department of Education and Skills (DES) to support the development of this work.

These are the key strategic actions for positive mental health promotion that school personnel can undertake to promote well-being in post-primary schools:

  • Developing and maintaining a safe and caring environment within the school where a sense of belonging and connectedness is fostered
  • Building positive teacher-student and student-student relationships to promote participation, social interaction and pro-social behaviour
  • Actively involving young people and their parents/guardians in developing and implementing school policies to support mental health and health promotion
  • Adopting a whole-school approach to health promotion, where health is promoted by all and not just a few members of staff
  • Supporting and implementing a well planned, consistent and integrated SPHE/RSE curriculum to enable young people enhance their coping, resilience, communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills
  • Developing a whole-school systems and structures to support the early identification of young people experiencing social, emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties
  • Actively involving, supporting and encouraging young people’s participation in extra-curricular activities
  • Fostering a whole-school ethos that accepts and values diversity within the student and staff population
  • Providing easy access to information for students and staff on supports available to them within the school and wider community
  • Facilitating access to continuing professional development for school staff on the promotion of the mental health and well-being of young people.