Education news

Young people have their say on mental health issues

Teachers and pupils at St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School taking part in a mental health initiative. Picture by Mal McCann

YOUNG people have gathered to share ideas and devise an action plan to tackle rising levels of anxiety and stress in schools.

More than 70 young people discussed issues including online bullying and exam pressure at a conference at Drumlins Integrated PS in Ballynahinch.

It was one of several events held at schools yesterday to mark World Mental Health Day.

Listening - A Mental Health Conference was organised by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

Teachers from integrated schools each brought four pupils to present their views.

Participants then formed small groups to share their thoughts on the stresses and anxieties experienced by young people, before generating ideas and actions to develop school-based support.

Paul Collins, campaign fundraiser with the IEF, said schools had seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people with mental health issues.

"These could be anxiety or panic attacks, stress and depression, eating disorders and even, as we sadly know suicidal thoughts," he said.

"The aim of this conference is to provide an open environment to listen to children and young people.

"Teachers and parents need to find out what mental health issues are affecting young people in order to provide them with access to the right type of support. On the basis of the group discussions, we hope to develop and deliver a plan that can help to address the mental issues impacting on our young people and their wellbeing."

Among those taking part was Rachel McBride (18) from Omagh.

"The lack of services and help available for young people suffering from mental health problems and illnesses in NI is an issue which is so important to me," she said.

"After seeing and knowing people who suffer with their mental health and struggle to get help I felt I wanted to make a difference."

Pupils at St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School in west Belfast, meanwhile, launched their Promoting Positive Mental Health initiative.

Fifty of the school's sixth form students have volunteered to be mental health ambassadors.

Past pupil Darren Donnelly, who is studying mental health nursing at Queen's University Belfast, has begun educational and fun workshops on positive mental health in the school.

This week, teachers across departments have also been delivering lessons which include discussion on dealing with difficult emotions.

"As a school community, we believe it is imperative that we take this issue seriously and ensure that our students, staff and community are aware of the steps we are taking to support our pupils," said principal Siobhan Kelly.

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