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175,000 urge better teacher training on mental health

An army of more than 175,000 have joined a campaign to call on teacher training to feature suicide awareness.

Led by Ben West, who lost his 15-year-old brother to suicide in January 2018, tens of thousands have called on education ministers across the UK to train teachers in mental health first aid.

Ben, 18, explained his own story:

In January 2018, I lost my younger brother, Sam. While I sat on my bed that Sunday evening, little did I know that only a few metres away from me my brother was about to take his own life.

As part of research into ways of helping young people suffering with mental health conditions in schools we found that staff are generally not equipped to deal with problems faced by some students.

Mental health first aid would be a very cheap and easy to run session which outlines potential problems faced by students and offers guidance to staff on what to do immediately. It would also advise staff on who to contact about the student to start putting into place the support they need as quickly as possible.

The Rooftop approached government departments for comment. In England, while the Department for Education pointed to the announcement of a new Minister for Suicide Prevention and the recruitment of mental health support teams in schools, Ben commented:

While the plans that have been put forward in England would be greatly beneficial, this does not solve the problem. The training that almost 200,000 people are calling for does not have to be overly technical or in depth, but will create universal understanding within the educational community.

Across the rest of the UK, the picture is very different and Mental Health Minister in the Scottish Government, Clare Haughey, told The Rooftop:

I applaud Ben West for his important campaign to improve mental health support for young people in schools following the tragic loss of his brother.

Every child and young person should have access to emotional and mental well-being support in schools, and since 2014 Mental Health First Aid Training has been delivered to local authority staff within secondary school communities by Education Scotland.

This training is intended to equip members of school staff with the confidence and skills to support learners experiencing mental health issues. It is designed to complement the range of mental health strategies that are already in place within the local authorities

Our ambitious Mental Health Strategy sets out improvements in early intervention and will ensure better access to services.

In Wales, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams said:

The mental health and wellbeing of pupils in schools across Wales is of paramount importance to us as a government.

We will consider how our schools address mental wellbeing, paying particular attention to awareness raising, early intervention and interaction with specialist services.

The Welsh Government has also invested £1.4m to run pilots such as the CAHMS project which introduces mental health practitioners into schools to support both teachers and pupils in identifying and dealing with mental health concerns.

Through these projects we will help develop a culture in our schools that is accepting of mental health issues, allowing them to identify concerns in the early stages to ensure that pupils across Wales receive the support they need.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland added:

 The Department is considering how best to enhance early intervention and support and help to build the resilience of our children and young people. We recognise the reality that joined up support is required, not only for the mental health needs of the child inside the classroom, but outside of it as well.

To put further pressure on the English government, the petition remains open for signatures at Change.org and a Foundation has been set up in Sam’s name. Ben added:

No one should ever have to experience the loss and confusion of losing someone to suicide and I hope that, with your help, this petition can save at least one family the awful pain I’ve had to and continue to face.

Anyone affected by the issues raised in this article can contact The Samaritans.

Image: Ben (l) and Sam (r) West / Sam West Foundation

About the author

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise communications.