11 July 2018

Mental Health Initiatives for Schools Welcomed by Fitzgerald

Dublin Mid-West Fine Gael TD, Frances Fitzgerald, has welcomed two significant mental health initiatives for schools announced by Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD.

This announcement is part of the Minister’s broader focus on supporting student wellbeing in all schools as part of his ambition to make Ireland’s Education System the best in Europe by 2026.

“Schools are at the frontline of youth mental health; they are where our children spend most of their time and face challenges from exams, building friendships and coming into their own in their teenage years. Therefore it is necessary to give schools and teachers the tools to recognise mental health issues and provide appropriate assistance and intervention.

“The SafeTALK programme has already been introduced to a number of schools in order to help teachers to have safe conversations around suicide and suicidal risks. The internationally recognised programme allows people to identify persons at risk and how to keep them safe while challenging taboos that inhibit open talk about suicide. A model of the programme specifically targeted at teachers and other school personnel was developed by the Department and the National Office of Suicide Prevention. This training commenced in the 2017/18 school year in 6 Education Centres. Today the Minister announced that the course will be available in a further 6 Education Centres from the start of the new school year. Schools in the area of each Education Centre will be invited to send two relevant members of staff to participate in the SafeTALK training,”
confirmed Fitzgerald.

Another measure announced by Minister Bruton is a two year programme to train teachers in every post-primary school on how to respond when a critical incident occurs in their school community.

Detailing this initiative, Deputy Fitzgerald said:

“Schools can also become a key part of helping young people deal with a significant event that effects the wider community. Over the next two years, teachers in every secondary school in the country will be given training in how to respond when a ‘critical incident’ affects their school community.

“A critical incident is defined as an incident or series of events that overwhelms the normal coping mechanism of the school, for example, a suicide or the sudden death of a fellow pupil. Training on responding to critical incidents will be delivered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), who are also allocated to schools where critical incidents take place.”

“These two announcements form part of a larger picture. An emphasis is being put on prevention and promoting mental health resilience across all age groups. Campaigns such as #littlethings, awareness campaigns such as the Green Ribbon and Darkness Into Light, all help to empower us all to look after our mental health on a daily basis, in the same way as we are encouraged to look after our physical health. In our schools, there are health and wellbeing weeks as well as the work underway on the new Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme. We also have fantastic outreach services locally such as our Youth Services and Jigsaw who give young people a space to be open about emotional difficulties they may be going through.

“While this work on prevention is welcome, unfortunately a need for urgent responses to emerging issues will sometimes take place. Recently we have seen examples of where critical incident protocols have been activated following the loss of a young person. From a schools perspective, we need to make sure teachers feel supported and able to respond to pupils needs in these situations as well as transition them back into normal school routines.

“Teachers already have the experience, ability and skillset to help young people in times of distress. I hope the expansion of SafeTALK and Critical Incident training gives them further confidence to deal with challenges that arise in the course of their work while also giving young people access to important mental health interventions,”
concluded Fitzgerald.