Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Charlie McConalogue has said that mental health is the most critical issue facing young people in Ireland.

The Donegal TD launched his party’s National Strategy on Youth Mental Health at Leinster House in Dublin last week. It includes targeted proposals to improve supports in schools and colleges and reduce the alarmingly high rate of suicide among young people.

Deputy McConalogue said, “Up to one in four students at any given time experience psychological problems. For some the cause may be bullying, problems at home, problems in school or psychiatric illness. The fact that Ireland’s youth suicide rate is now the fourth highest in Europe clearly shows that we are not doing nearly enough to help our young people to cope with such problems.

“The proposals Fianna Fáil launched this week are designed to greatly enhance the role that our schools and colleges play in promoting positive mental health and equipping young people with coping skills. We also want to improve the availability of community-based youth mental health support services in Donegal and across the North West so that young people requiring specialist help can access this directly or through their schools,” the Donegal TD said.

The proposals include:

  • A focus on positive mental health promotion at all levels of the education system, from pre-school to third level;
  • The implementation of effective strategies to tackle bullying in all its forms, including cyber bullying, with a major emphasis on peer support and students being encouraged to stand up for classmates who are being bullied;
  • All schools and colleges to have their own mental health promotion plans, with students, staff and parents being involved in the development and implementation of these plans;
  • Each school to put in place a care team to oversee the implementation of its mental health initiatives, to be made up of staff, students, parents and appropriate external bodies such as professional mental health workers and local youth services;
  • A national ‘Positive Schools’ initiative, similar to the ‘Green Schools’ programme with schools being awarded ‘Positive Schools Flags’ for promoting mental health and having effective strategies to tackle bullying and support students experiencing mental health difficulties;
  • A reversal of the Government’s decision to abolish dedicated guidance counsellor allocations for schools, which has dramatically reduced access for young people to counselling supports;
  • Headstrong to be funded to establish a Jigsaw centre in every county so that young people can get access to appropriate professional support in a welcoming environment;
  • A greater emphasis in schools on the importance of physical exercise and diet to students’ mental well-being and a focus on ensuring that all students, particularly those in exam years, get the recommended number of hours of PE classes;

Deputy McConalogue continued, “No young person in distress should have to suffer alone. It is quite clear that we need to do more to ensure that help is available to those who need it