Education Minister Richard Bruton today announced plans to expand a training programme for teachers to help students cope with traumatic personal incidents and for preventing suicide.
The programme will seek to tackle the stigma surrounding talking about suicide and indeed other mental health issues, in a bid to combat the lingering taboos prohibiting open discussion. It is hoped that by equipping teachers with the tools necessary to facilitate more open discussions about personal mental well-being, progress will be made in tackling the disproportionately high rates of suicide prevalent among Ireland's youth.
In conjunction with this there will also be an increase in the number of teachers trained through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), which provides teachers with training on how to deal with various traumatic incidents in a school.
Provisions will be put in place for up to two teachers per school across the 730 second-level schools throughout the country to be provided with this training.
The training is provided by pschologists who visit schools to help train teachers on how to deal with traumatic events involving students or staff, particularly in relation to suicide, illness, deaths or other incidents that may affect those in the school.
Mr Bruton said that, "Coping with the aftermath of critical incidents has become a challenging but necessary task for a number of schools in recent years."
"The training that we are announcing today will ensure all schools are prepared to respond to such an incident.
However, his department will not be paying schools’ substitution costs to cover teacher absences at the training, which will be delivered in regional education centres and takes two to three hours.
While it is not obligatory for schools to send staff, NEPS psychologists will follow up with schools who do not attend in relation to their critical incident readiness.
NEPS visits to schools dealing with critical incidents fell from 127 to 105 between 2014 and 2015, but rose again to 115 and 125 in each of the last two school years.
The department stressed that the new teacher training programme will not mean reduced NEPS supports to schools, and will not preclude direct involvement of NEPS staff in schools that seek their help responding to a critical incident.
The Department of Education could not say how many teachers will take part in the separate SafeTalk training programme, but the six new education centres where it will be offered next autumn serve schools in counties Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan, and Waterford.
The programme was already open in the past year to schools in the areas covered by six education centres in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Athlone.
The department provides substitution cover for two teachers in each school in these areas to attend the training, but schools are not obliged to take part.
Mr Bruton said the version of the training developed for teachers and other school staff by his department and the National Office of Suicide Prevention can help them address the topic of suicide in a safe way.
The internationally-used programme prepares participants to identify people with thoughts of suicide and apply the TALK (Talk, Ask, Listen, and Keep safe) steps to connect them with people or agencies who can help."
It's great to see a proactive approach being taken to bolstering mental health services provided within Ireland's public school system, which up until this point, were evidently in dire need of overhaul.
H/T: Irish Examiner