Senator Robbie Gallagher, FF Spokesperson for Education in Seanad Eireann and member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills says the Government needs to put in place additional supports to promote wellbeing amongst students in primary and secondary schools.
Senator Gallagher was speaking after the publication of a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which shows that Ireland has some of the highest levels of depression among students. The report follows the publication of the report on Positive Mental Health in Schools by the Oireachtas Education Committee itself in the last week.
“The report published by the OECD is cause for concern and shows that we need to do much more to promote positive mental health amongst students in Ireland. It’s very worrying that Ireland has some of the highest rates of depression for students worldwide, particularly for those that leave school early or drop out of college.
“The Government needs to work with schools to place a greater emphasis on promoting positive mental health amongst students. This is best done at primary and secondary level, when young people should be equipped with the skills to deal with life challenges before they enter into adulthood,” he said.
“The report also shows that depression rates are higher in Ireland for early school leavers or those that drop out of college as there often simply aren’t any decent career prospects for those that find themselves in this position. Third level education is not for everyone, We need to recognise that further education is not for everyone, and we know that other countries, Germany being a good example have a strong focus on promoting vocational work and apprenticeships where people learn through experience. “
“Every school needs a strategy to enable them achieve a holistic approach to mental health. Our report calls on the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People to work together in order to promote mental resilience.
Senator Gallagher listed the Committee’s report’s recommendations as:
• The critical role of teachers in creating a culture of whole-school mental health needs to be recognised and supported. Teachers should be allocated sufficient time, training and resources to enable them to promote positive mental health amongst students.
• Teachers and students need the time and opportunity to be able to listen to one another and develop caring relationships.
• Teachers and schools should be provided with the resources necessary to enable each student to participate fully in schools through encouraging and developing his or her particular talents and strengths.
• Positive measures to counteract bullying such as the anti-bullying ambassador’s project now running in a number of schools which supports a friendly positive and respect culture in schools with a strong emphasis on eliminating bullying where it occurs should be implemented.
• Students need to feel connected to their community. Children and young people should be provided with the opportunity to participate and engage in both the local community and school community.
• There needs to be enhanced collaboration between schools and state agencies in order to support students and teachers alike. (For example a team of mental health professionals may be designated to a particular region and they would be responsible for responding to the needs of all schools within that region).
• The Committee recommends that sufficient time and resources is allocated to ensure the promotion and support of positive mental health throughout the school community.
• It is recommended that teacher training programmes be revised to incorporate a module of resilience and promoting positive mental health in schools.
• The Committee recommends a review of the current college entry system which places an emphasis on academic achievement resulting in additional stress on children and young people.
• To establish an Expert Group to investigate the appropriateness, feasibility and best practice approach regarding the introduction of mindfulness in primary schools, particularly with a view to creating a standardised system, if possible, for all teachers.
• To investigate the introduction of school-based counselling.
• To explore the provision of psychotherapy training and other further professional development to guidance counsellors in secondary schools which may be the most cost-effective method to provide access to counselling in schools.
“The Committee realises that mental health issues are very complex and there is no easy or one size fits all solution but school and the interactions between teachers and students play a hugely important role in promoting positive mental health amongst young people,” said Senator Gallagher.
“In issues regarding mental health, early intervention is critical. The mental health of children should be placed at the very heart of the education system, but more needs to be done to support students and teachers both inside and outside the classroom and there needs to be greater integration between the whole community and schools in order to effectively promote positive mental health in schools. I believe that teachers want to have the confidence to deal with mental health issues and that they should be assisted through training and awareness in gaining that confidence,” he said.
“The adoption of these recommendations would put the needs of both teachers and students first and allow teachers have the resources necessary to ensure that all interactions between teachers and students are constructive and promote positive mental health among the school community as a whole. It is paramount that teachers be given more supports to help pupils suffering mental health difficulties,” he added.