Northern Ireland news

25 young people's sudden deaths prompt counselling calls

Northern Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK

EMERGENCY support has been provided to schools after 25 sudden deaths of young people in two years.

The startling figures were revealed yesterday to the Stormont education committee.

Members heard from Nicola Topping from the Education Authority (EA).

She told the committee that over the past three years, the EA critical incident response team had responded to 141 "critical incidents".

The figures were revealed in response to questions from SDLP member Daniel McCrossan.

Mr McCrossan said he had attended the funerals of three school pupils who had taken their own lives.

"All of us have seen it in our own respective constituencies where there is a suicide in a school and that has a knock-on effect to an entire year group," he said.

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"Last summer I attended the funerals of three young people who were very close friends who took their own lives very close together."

Just last month an 11-year-old boy from north Belfast also took his own life.

Mr McCrossan asked Ms Topping what support services were in place for pupils affected by such trauma.

Ms Topping said the EA's critical incident response team would visit a school to provide support or counselling.

She added that there had been 25 "sudden-death type situations such as you're describing" since September 2017 and "over the past three years the critical incident response team has responded to 141 critical incidents".

Ms Topping said counselling sessions were available to post-primary schools on a weekly basis following the establishment of a new Independent Counselling Service for Schools service in September.

But she said the number of pupils to receive counselling depended on the size of their school.

"We are largely constrained by the funding in relation to what we are given to provide the counselling service," she said.

Sinn Féin assembly member and committee deputy chair Karen Mullan said the level of counselling schools received was "shocking".

Many schools will pay for counselling services out of their already tight budgets.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Mullan said the availability of counselling services was insufficient and called for more investment.

"The figures revealed in the committee re-iterate that current provision for counselling services in schools is insufficient," she said.

"It's even more shocking to hear that in a school which has 1,000 pupils there is only five sessions per week.

"As the parent of a son who, in Year 10 whose class experienced a bereavement with the loss of a pupil - the crisis intervention they experienced was excellent, but it's too short term. The school were excellent, but as we heard, they get a very small amount of sessions."

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