In recent months, we have heard many media stories about how children and young adults are suffering in silence with a mental illness. Some of whom have taken their own life. We are fully aware of how important it is to provide appropriate and responsive support to young people who are struggling, and yet our schools (probably the best place to provide support) are not geared up to the task. Having staff in school with the skills and the knowledge to recognise signs of distress, and to know how to help a child stay safe, should be an expectation from young people and their parents - after all, schools are not their just to educate, they also have a duty of care... However, this is not standard practice across the UK. There is another way - a nationalised mental health and wellbeing initiative.

We can turn to Australia where such a national initiative has been found to be successful, and is an example of good practice. headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation is a federally funded NGO providing support to young people between the ages of 12-25 years. As part of its extensive support for young people and parents, headspace also provides a School Support programme. An integral part of the programme is to provide suicide prevention and suicide postvention gatekeeper training for staff with pastoral and mental health responsibilities, and STORM training was the preferred choice.   headspace began to train High school staff in 2013, with over 1,000 in the first year alone. Demand for the training is high and is reaching across states with more training sessions planned. What is impressive, is the eagerness of headspace to ensure that the evidence stacked up - that the gatekeeper training actually worked - before embarking on an expensive nationwide dissemination across Australia.  

A pilot study of the training was conducted by Orygen (University of Melbourne) before the planned national dissemination. A number of schools in an area with a cluster of suicides in the state of Victoria were chosen for the study. Many staff had received some form of suicide prevention training after these deaths and so were already familiar with risk and safety planning. As this recently published paper of the pilot study suggests, gatekeeper training does have a positive impact on school staff's ability to help those at risk of suicide - even for those with some level of knowledge and ability. Although further testing is needed with the STORM model, this is good news for schools. It proves that a skilled and responsive team can make a difference to young lives in their care. 

Gill's blog

Mental health is often in the news – and that is a good thing! We are beginning to understand that mental health is something that we all need in order to thrive, but some of us at some point in our lives will become unwell. For a few, a serious mental illness such as psychosis can be debilitating whilst, for…

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