Responding to the publication this week of new national guidelines on promoting positive mental health and suicide prevention in post-primary schools, Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien said any initiative to heighten awareness of these issues was to be welcomed but schools also needed additional resources to help vulnerable young people.
Deputy O’Brien said: “I agree with the view that post-primary schools have a unique role to play in supporting the positive health and well-being of young people, but the type of caring environment that is needed to achieve this can only happen if there are adequate supports available to help teachers and boards of management.
“In acknowledging the merit of these Guidelines, which are an attempt to provide a clear framework for schools when promoting mental health issues and suicide prevention, we need also to be mindful of the cuts that are impacting on the second level education sector.
“It is all very well to adopt a ‘whole-school approach’ to deal with these issues but this is happening at time when hundreds of school guidance counsellors have been lost, meaning the vital pastoral role they provide to at risk young people has been badly hit.
“Indeed it is ironic that schools are being told of the importance of early detection of problems and timely intervention for any young person experiencing mental health difficulties, while at the same guidance counsellors who have the specialised training and experience to deal with these types of situations are being prevented from fulfilling this role.
“The serious contradictions that seem to underpin the government’s approach to mental health issues and suicide in young people is very worrying and is something that I will be raising directly with the Education Minister Ruairí Quinn.”