As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day this week, Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) says more work must be done to destigmatise mental health among young people. It’s a pertinent discussion for Radford College in Bruce, which is grappling with the loss of two students who took their own lives in the past three months.
On Saturday morning (7 September), a memorial service was held at Radford College for a Year 11 student who took his own life recently. It is the second suicide the Belconnen Anglican private school has faced this year after a student who graduated in 2018 also ended their life in June.
Region Media has chosen not to identify the two students, but the tragedies highlight the challenges faced by schools to respond appropriately to complex and tragic events.
In an email sent to parents and guardians on 28 August, which Region Media has obtained, Radford College Principal Fiona Godfrey said actions had been taken to inform and support students affected by the tragedy.
“I am deeply saddened to write to you with the news that one of our year 11 students took his own life this morning,” Ms Godfrey wrote. “The thoughts and prayers of the whole college community are with the family at this incredibly difficult time.”
In a statement, Ms Godfrey said the days since the news broke had been “exceptionally difficult” for everyone at the school.
“Senior staff, teachers and counsellors have worked hard to support those students requiring assistance to process this information,” Ms Godfrey said. “We are also keenly aware it is important to resume our daily activities as quickly as possible, as this can form part of the healing process.
“At the Secondary School assembly, I spoke to all the students about the fact that when a tragedy such as this happens, it is a stark reminder of the need for all of us to look out for each other.
“We should seek help from others when we feel down or vulnerable and young people should tell an adult if they are worried about friends hurting themselves.”
MIEACT chief executive officer Heidi Prowse said stigma is one of the key reasons why young people do not reach out for help when they are struggling with their mental health.
“The 2019 ACT Children and Young Person review, which was led by MIEACT, identified stigma as the biggest barrier for young people under the age of 17,” Ms Prowse said. “We have come a long way and I know we are talking more but we still have a really long way to go.”
Ms Prowse encouraged Canberrans to undertake a free online course QPR that will help them to identify the warning signs of mental health and learn three simple steps to help save a life.
“We need to always have a conversation with the people around you and checking in with them because sometimes we don’t always notice the warning signs,” Ms Prowse said. “The key message today is that if you are feeling unsettled yourself or you are concerned about someone, check in with each other and have a conversation.
“We need to talk about what we might be experiencing with a strong emphasis on hope and recovery. Sometimes it might feel like a long way away, but there are services in place and there are things that people can do to improve their mental health.”
Radford College hosted an information session by StandBy and Headspace for parents last week and Ms Godfrey said the school would go ahead with the activities planned for Mental Health Week and RUOK day for students this week (9-13 September).
An Education Directorate spokesperson said the Directorate would offer support to Radford College if required.
“The Education Directorate offer our thoughts and condolences to the families, friends and wider communities affected by these incidents,” the spokesperson said. “We care greatly for the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in ACT public schools, as well as those within Independent and Catholic Schools.
“The ACT Government supports the work of Headspace, which supports young people aged between 12 and 25 who are experiencing mental health concerns, as well as their family and friends.
“The Education Directorate also offers supports to non-government school communities, students and teaching staff when required.”
Today (10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day. It is organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) with the aim of raising awareness of suicide and the support mechanisms in place to prevent it.
If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, call Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14 or contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.