In the first 5 months of this school year I have worked directly, face to face, with around 5,000 students in Secondary schools all over Ireland. Most schools we work with as us to work with TY, 5th and 6th years on our first visit and then each new TY year after that. The initial visits, particularly for larger schools, tend to be done over 2 days and can be up to 1,000 students attending workshops. Follow-up visits are usually just up to 300 depending on the school size.
YSPI developed the Four Steps to Help Programme for Schools with the assistance of Dr Keith Holmes, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, and Medical Director of St John of God's Youth Mental Health Services. We have spent the last two years completing the programme, which is now a comprehensive mental health awareness and suicide prevention programme that includes:
Following feedback from the students themselves we set-up the FreeText Crisis Information Service in 2014. The FreeText service allows anyone, even if they have no credit, to text HELP to 50015 where they will receive back a list of services that are available 24/7 and are also free to call. As of 31st October 2017 we were receiving around 2,000 unique text requests per month on the FreeText service with a peak increase of 318% over Christmas 2017.
Our latest development of the programme is to put together a video presentation of our workshops which can be included into school packs for schools where they have an urgent requirement for support, such as a suicide in the area affecting the students, where we simply don't have the resources to schedule a facilitator. We would like to put together around 100 of these school packs for distribution per year although the pack costs are quite high.
A very important part of our role as a charity is to support awareness of the risks of youth suicide, and this often means educating teachers, youth workers, GAA coaches and parents in prevention assessment and assistance techniques. As part of this work we offer training programmes which provide a more detailed background to youth suicide, its causes, risks and prevention strategies. I spend a lot of my time at schools providing support to the guidance and pastoral staff who receive almost no training in youth self-harm and suicide. This is something that they point out to us regularly as a very high-risk situation.
Their most frequent request is for on-site training. The charity has been looking at the possibility of running a mobile resource centre which would go from school to school with a counsellor and provide support to teachers and guidance staff on-site. We have had some interest from the corporate sector in supporting this service as the mobile resource centre would provide a very visible branding opportunity around the country and at school premises in a particular. Unfortunately the companies felt that students, teachers and schools didn't really fit into their "marketing mix".
The other area where the charity would like to improve its service is directly with the students and young people. At present we have a small fund to pay for private psychotherapy for at-risk young people with no access to public mental health services. This is not a service we advertise as we could not possibly fund the demand. Many smaller schools are also without access to counselling or psychotherapy services, particularly in rural areas. We would like to make our mobile resource centre available to schools as part of the Schools Programme, and provide a counsellor in attendance who could work with individual students in need of support while the facilitators work with the main student body. We already work with a number of counsellors who are willing to attend schools with us, at reduced rates, if we can provide transport and support.
Our other role is education and outreach. It still amazes me in this day and age that many people will not face up to the reality of suicide, particularly youth suicide, in Ireland. The sad reality of life today is that homelessness, poverty, bullying, stress, addiction, racism and homophobia all increase the likelihood of mental health issues, and also increase the probability of suicidal ideation as a solution to often unbearable situations. Sadly the government funding to tackle these issues is just not there, and if anything is decreasing as suicide ceases to be a political "hot button issue".
The charity tries to address these issues by holding awareness events around the country, usually in hotels or community centres, to give the public an opportunity to find out more about mental health and suicide prevention. These events are well-attended particularly in areas where there has been a recent suicide. Sadly it often takes a tragedy in the community to motivate people to make a change, and often the family of the suicide victim are the ones who really make a difference, by turning their tragic loss into a positive thing, by raising awareness and highlighting prevention techniques.
Thank you for considering supporting our work. As I am "on the ground" with young people so much I am faced with so many tragedies and difficulties that it is often hard to see that we are making a difference. I recently received an email from a young lady at a school I had been working with a few weeks previously which really put our work back into context. In closing I would like to share it with you:
I wanted to thank Alan for visiting our school. I wanted to talk to him after the presentation but I felt awkward and didn't want my friends to see me.
The reason I wanted to talk with Alan was to thank him and YSPI for coming into schools and explaining so simply what we should be looking out for in our friends and family. My father killed himself three years ago this Christmas because he was going to be made bankrupt. It wasn't his fault but he blamed himself that his family would suffer for his mistakes. He really changed before he died, he drank, he was aggressive and rude. He was never like that before but now those are our last memories of him. We didn't know that a sudden change in behaviour was a sign of serious mental health issues, and I am so grateful that this is something you speak about so clearly in your presentation.
My brother didn't take our father's death well especially when we had to have the funeral and then the inquest. Mum said it's a small town with big mouths and we were all disappointed that "friends of the family" gossiped about us so openly. Funnily enough the kids at school were much more supportive than the teachers. At least my school friends let me talk about it and didn't try and pretend that it hadn't happened. My brother didn't have that support at college. He left a note saying that if our father wasn't strong enough to face up to his problems then why should he.
Now there's just mum and me. We moved to a new house, a new town and a new school. I'm just me here and not the girl who the whole of our old town was waiting for her to kill herself as well. I'm studying hard, I want to study psychology. I want to work in mental health and help other people to wake up to the crisis of suicide in our country.
Thank you for visiting our school