The Cure for Suicide Isn’t Another Educational Program

I think that schools should implement suicide prevention programs and should certainly train teachers in how to deal with students at risk of self harm and suicide.  However, often these programs are nothing more than scapegoats for schools with poor cultures to pretend they are dealing with the problem responsibly when they aren’t.

The program in itself sounds like a good one.

Dr Martin Harris, who is on the board of Suicide Prevention Australia, says a suicide prevention program should be considered as part of the new national curriculum.

“I think it ought not to be the prevail of a particular teacher, but it ought to be a program which is embraced in a robust way by a school when they think they’re ready to do it,” he said.

Mr Harris says mental health experts could prepare teachers on how to broach the subject in schools.

“I think for us to be saying, ‘well, it’s not my problem’, increases the risk of it being isolated and for it to be stigmatised,” he said.

“I think it’s high time the community took off the blinkers and looked more carefully about what they can and can’t do.”

But Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a child and adolescent psychologist, has dismissed calls for a suicide prevention program in schools.

“We’ve adopted a policy for as long as I can remember, that basically says let’s talk about suicide in terms of what leads up to it, which of course is by and large mental health problems; so suicide is the outcome of what happens when you don’t treat it,” he said.

“My view has been that we’ve been doing that very successfully for the last 15 years or so – the suicide rate’s come down. I see no reason at all why we should change our policy and I would urge schools to stick to their original idea and ignore the advice from Suicide Prevention Australia.”

My worry is that every time there is a glaring problem facing school aged children, somebody develops a school program to counteract it.  The advantage of a problem is that it creates awareness in students and encourages students to talk candidly and openly about important topics.  The disadvantage is that often all it ever amounts to is a lot of talk and very little real substance.

Suicide is indeed an issue facing our students.  Many of the reasons for suicide and suicide attempts relate to problems faced at school such as social pressures, bullying and academic pressures.  Schools claim to be safe, caring environments, but we know that many aren’t.  It can be argued that many schools come across cold, distant and out of touch with the issues facing their students.  Such schools should not be allowed to hide behind programs.  They should be pressured into changing their culture by spending as much time investing in connecting with their students as they do covering themselves legally.

In my view school’s must do a lot more than take on programs.  They must do everything in their powers to support and nurture their students.  They must fight for their students’ self esteem, help them find a sense of self and give them every chance to leave school with a positive attitude and real purpose.

If you think what I’m saying is just “airy fairy”, then you’d probably be in the majority.  Meanwhile programs come and go and problems still remain.

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