Primary school principal calls for resources to deal with suicides

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The principal of a north Belfast Primary School has called for more resources to support her teachers after revealing that five people linked to her pupils had taken their lives since September.

Seaview Primary Principal Corinne Latham said he had started this term off going to the homes of families affected by suicide who were connected to her school.

“That was devastating,” she said.

Ms Latham called for statutory support for school counselling for primary school pupils.

“It is something that is really required and... [currently] we have to pay out of our own school budgets to provide a counselling service to young people,” she told Good Morning Ulster.

She added counselling for students came at a cost of about £50 a session.

Ms Latham told the News Letter that all five of those who died would be men in their twenties or thirties and that unemployment was a factor.

An indicator of the situation in north Belfast, she said, was the marked increase in the number of pupils qualifying for free school dinners.

She called for new Education Minister Peter Weir to take note of the problem and said what she really needed was a specially qualified teacher who could help children cope and process what had happened to their relatives.

“Teachers are not trained health educationalists,” she said. “They don’t have the background to fully support young people with mental health issues.”

There is an enormous impact on her teachers who have had to attend such a funeral in the morning and see the distress of a pupil and then go back to school to teach in the afternoon, she added.

Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said she was “consistently” hearing from teachers about year one and year two pupils having “heightened states of anxiety”.

“In our post-primary setting every school, every child has access to counselling in schools,” she told the BBC.

* For mental health support call Lifeline 0808 808 8000 or Samaritans on 116 123.