Second-level teachers are to be trained in how to deal with suicides and other traumatic incidents involving pupils and the wider school community.
It is part of a wider and growing Department of Education focus on the wellbeing of teenage students, amid growing concern about youth mental health.
In one of two initiatives being announced today, from September, there will be an expansion of suicide prevention training for post-primary teachers.
Separately, over the next two years, teachers in every post-primary school will receive training on how to respond when a critical incident occurs in their school community.
A critical incident could be a suicide or another traumatic event – such as death due to violence or an accident – that overwhelms a school’s normal coping mechanisms.
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), which offers an emergency response service to schools when such incidents occur, will deliver the training.
According to a report last year from the international children’s organisation, Unicef, Ireland has the fourth highest teen suicide rate in the developed world.
In Ireland self-harm – which can be an indicator of suicide risk – is highest among 15-19 year old women and among men aged 20-24, according to official statistics
International studies point to a possible link between the surge in social media and self-harm and suicide, by teenagers, with particular concern about how social media is used as a tool for bullying.
Children may be struggling with mental health issues well before adolescence.
According to the CEO for St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Paul Gilligan, research suggests that one in three Irish children younger than 13 experienced mental health difficulties.
Announcing today’s initiative, Education Minister Richard Bruton said he was keen “to put as many safeguards as possible in place in our schools, to ensure we help our most vulnerable students”.
He said he was glad to be significantly expanding the availability of SafeTALK, an internationally recognised programme that can help teachers to address the topic of suicide with their student in a safe way.
But he added, that “unfortunately, while we put a big emphasis on preventative measures in our schools – such as the Junior Cycle Wellbeing programme – it is sometimes necessary for a school to respond to a critical incident”.
The minister said coping with the aftermath of critical incidents had become a challenging, but necessary, task for a number of schools in recent years.
He said the NEPS training would “ensure all schools are prepared to respond to such an incident”. NEPS will continue to be available to schools to respond to such situations.
SafeTALK is a half day workshop where participants are trained to be alert to persons at risk of suicide and to connect them to people and agencies that can help.
SafeTALK was delivered in six regional teacher education centres last year, and from September, it will be provided in another six of the country’s 21 full time education centres, with two members of staff from schools in each area invited to participate