Samaritans Cymru launch their 2017/18 Impact Report and strengthenitheir call for compulsory mental health education in Wales schools.
As Samaritans Cymru launch their 2017/18 Impact Report in the Pierhead building today, they are strengthening their call for compulsory mental health education in Wales schools in order to tackle the high male suicide rate. The charity works with a number of high risk groups for suicide, such as prisoners, veterans and those with mental health issues, but when it comes to men, they are highlighting the latest suicide rates to appeal for wider intervention.
Following the release of the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for suicide in Wales, Samaritans Cymru are raising their concern for the high rates among men. In 2017, 360 people died by suicide in Wales; this is around 3 times the number killed in road accidents. 77% of these suicides were by men, which means the male rate is now more than 3 times higher than the female rate. The figures also show that men aged 40-44 have the highest suicide rate in Wales and that rates are 2 -3 times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the most affluent.
Sarah Stone, Executive Director for Samaritans in Wales said –
“We know that men are a high-risk group for suicide in Wales and we are concerned that the latest rates show no downward trend across all groups. We work hard at Samaritans to target high-risk groups whilst promoting our service to the whole population; all of us go through difficult times in life when we may need help from others. However, when it comes to men, we need to start thinking differently about how we reach a target group that makes up half of our population.
Our belief is that we can do this, in part, through school; we must equip boys and young men with the resilience and skills to manage their emotional and mental health so they can face the future with optimism. Effective suicide prevention must be based on prevention and early intervention so we can minimize the amount of people who reach crisis point at the other end of the scale.”
Samaritans Cymru have previously welcomed the new curriculum along with the recommendations from Mind over Matter, a report on the emotional and mental health of children and young people in Wales released by the Children, Young People and Education Assembly Committee earlier this year. The charity believes the new curriculum has potential to contribute to better public mental health in our communities, through its focus on health and wellbeing as a core Area of Learning.
However, Samaritans Cymru continues to call for compulsory emotional and mental health education in schools, along with basic mental health awareness training as part of teacher training. They strongly believe this is needed to reduce emotional distress in children and young people and to equip teachers with the confidence to talk openly about distress with their pupils. In 2018, the Cabinet Secretary for Education announced that Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) would be a statutory part of the new curriculum. Samaritans Cymru believe the same status should be awarded to emotional and mental health education.
Sarah Stone says –
“As an organisation, we have welcomed the statutory inclusion of mental health education in England. We believe it is crucial to achieve this in Wales too. We currently have a unique opportunity with the pioneering new curriculum, to equip our future generations with the knowledge and skills to manage their mental health more effectively.”
In their previous evidence to the assembly, the charity highlighted the wider benefits of being taught about emotional health. These lessons can help people become less prejudiced which reduces the stigma surrounding asking for help. It can also reduce specific mental health problems and help with communication skills, social skills, cooperation, resilience, a sense of optimism, empathy, a positive and realistic self-concept and problem-solving skills.
James Downs, a mental health campaigner for Wales and a supporter of Samaritans Cymru, is now a student at Cambridge University and has voiced his support –
“When I developed OCD and depression in my mid-teens, I managed to keep it hidden from my school and parents for the best part of the year whilst skiving off in parks and back lanes. I assume my teachers weren't concerned about me being absent because I would get top grades anyway. The result of my absence was that I became more and more isolated and increasingly emotionally distressed and my health deteriorated as I developed severe anorexia, perhaps as a visible expression of the needs that were going unmet in my life.
As well as learning math’s, science and Shakespeare, there should be room to learn about resilience in the face of the challenges life throws at all of us, and importantly, how to manage mental health as well as physical health. What does it say of our education system if there are people like me who may well be leaving school with good CVs, but are totally unequipped to cope with the basics of life? I believe emotional and mental health education should be statutory in Wales in order to give our future generations the best chance in life. Let’s reach boys and girls before they reach adulthood.”
Lynne Neagle AM, Chair of the Assembly Children, Young People and Education Committee, who is sponsoring the Samaritans Cymru event today said –
“I’m proud to be sponsoring this Samaritans Cymru event today. Samaritans Cymru work hard to raise awareness of suicide prevention in Wales and have continued to demonstrate the life changing benefits of a preventative and early intervention approach to reducing suicide through our education system. The figures for suicide in young people in Wales are devasting and it’s crucial we seize the opportunity curriculum reform has provided; we must implement a whole-school approach where mental wellbeing is at the heart of our schools. As Samaritans Cymru continue to highlight, we must reach out to our children and young people while they’re still in their formative years, so they develop the skills to live as resilient young adults who know where to turn and how to ask for help when they need it’