School pupils' suicide attempts
AMBULANCES were called to schools in the area three times last year after pupils attempted suicide, The Evening Star can reveal today.Teachers say the incidents were cries for help rather than serious attempts, but a children's mental health charity has warned they should all be taken seriously and called for greater training of staff.
AMBULANCES were called to schools in the area three times last year after pupils attempted suicide, The Evening Star can reveal today.
Teachers say the incidents were cries for help rather than serious attempts, but a children's mental health charity has warned they should all be taken seriously and called for greater training of staff.
And mental health chiefs have said it is part of a "growing trend of self destructive behaviour" in young people.
The figures were revealed after the Star asked the East Anglian Ambulance Trust to list how many times they were called to schools in 2004.
In January they were called to Copleston High in Ipswich to reports of a "female overdose", in November to a girl who had overdosed at Westbourne High in Ipswich and in December they were called out to Stowmarket High to a pupil who had overdosed on tablets.
All the incidents are believed to have involved legal painkillers rather than illegal drugs.
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Ann Ager, deputy headteacher of Copleston, said the incident there was more of a cry for help than a serious overdose attempt.
She said: "The girl involved is now completely rehabilitated and is succeeding with her studies again.
"That's not to say it was not a big deal, it was a big deal for her because her problems were very real to her."
She added: "A school is the same as any other large organisation or place of work, there will always be people with problems who need help and support."
All of the schools said they work very closely with social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and are continuing to build up their services.
David Oliver, headteacher at Stowmarket, said: "We are doing all we can to provide students with an outlet for their worries. We are becoming more and more prepared to have to deal with things like this.
"In recent months there's been a real linking-up of health, social services and education. If a person has a problem like this they may well have a health worker or social worker looking after them and we all need to be working together."
Christopher Edwards, headteacher at Westbourne, stressed that the number of pupils taking this kind of action must be kept in context.
He said: "Out of the thousands of children in schools across the county who are all going through the very difficult process of growing up, this is an extremely small number."
A spokesman for children's mental health charity Young Minds said he welcomed all the initiatives the schools have in place but said more could still be done to support children.
He said: "Although many attempted suicides are not 'real' attempts they should always be taken seriously.
"If you make an attempt like that and you don't get any attention, what are you going to do next time?
"We feel everybody working with children should have some basic training in young people's mental health issues and where to refer kids to, this also helps people to know when they are out of their depth.
Stephanie Raine, clinical services manager for CAMHS, said: "We work with the schools on a case by case basis and also with our team of primary mental health workers who visit schools and try to help prevent problems escalating to such a stage.
"Unfortunately, they can't be in every school all the time because we have not got enough of them.
"We'd be happy to play a part in helping the schools to find the appropriate levels of training, but we could not provide it all ourselves because we are just not big enough."
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Alan Staff, director of modernisation for the county's Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), said: "There's a growing trend nationally for this kind of self destructive behaviour.
"The reason for that is anything from making an extreme statement to severe depression and self-hatred.
"It's very difficult to work out how much of that is to do with pressures of life, self image, expectations, all the modern social phenomena that place demands and pressures on children to grow up so fast."
Mr Staff believes that attempted suicide attempts like this are not always indicative of a mental health problem and that children often act in such a way because it is deemed "cool".
He said: "The hard thing is to differentiate between what is a mental health problem and what is a behavioural phenomenon.
"Everyone assumes if a child attempts to take their own life they must be ill. This is absolutely not the case. A large percentage of young people do this to make a very severe statement.
"For example, you only have to look at the whole Goth culture to see the fascination with death."
A spokesman for Young Minds said: "Teachers should be looking out for sudden changes of character and people who are very withdrawn or socially isolated, as well as keeping an eye on pupils where there are known to be difficulties.
"Quite often things like this are related to what's going on in the families, this could range from substance misuse to domestic violence. Being bullied is also a factor, as is being stressed about exams."