Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for bringing and leading such an important debate on the introduction of statutory suicide prevention teaching in our current RSHE curriculum. There have been many powerful contributions this afternoon, but none more powerful than having 3 Dads Walking actually with us in this Chamber. I also thank Mike, Tim and Andy for their incredible work on this campaign. Mr Owen is a fellow Norfolk man, although not from my constituency, so it is a great privilege to represent our county for him this afternoon, along with my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) beside me. Their efforts have clearly not gone unnoticed, and they will have a huge and significant impact on children and young people in future.

I thank those in my constituency, particularly the many mental health campaigners who I speak to, and Caroline Aldridge, who I know will watch the debate. She lost her own son to mental illness and she has done so much for others. I have also spoken to many others who have told me about their personal experiences and the tragedy of losing a child to suicide. I am honoured to participate in the debate on their behalf.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to 3 Dads Walking, including Tim, who is from west Norfolk. They have raised money and, vitally, raised awareness of the issue and of the support that exists by getting us talking about it today. The Government have rightly committed to a review, which I welcome and which I know the Minister will consider carefully. Does my hon. Friend agree that it should hear directly from 3 Dads Walking and others who have been directly affected by suicide to inform its decision?

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I agree entirely. It is imperative that those with personal experience help to shape any future review and legislation that comes forward about the issue.

Mental health and mental health illness is a personal yet often isolating journey, despite the increased openness of conversation on that issue, which affects one in four of us throughout our lifetimes. Early intervention can make an astounding difference to the lives of those suffering, especially children and young people. When researching for this debate, I was devastated to learn that one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2020. That number is likely to have risen since.

A survey by YoungMinds found that suicide rates for young people aged 15 to 19 rose by a third between 2020 and 2021—from 147 to 198. Despite those staggering figures, about 70% of children and adolescents do not get appropriate interventions at an early enough age, which begs the question of how we can begin to overcome that.

As many hon. Members have said, one of the answers is to implement this change in our national curriculum. Since September 2020, RSHE has been a statutory part of the curriculum, yet suicide prevention, taught in a safe and age-appropriate way, is only optional. I am pleased that the Government, too, see the incredible value in supporting mental health, but I believe that a review of the RHSE curriculum is the right step to provide consistent mental health support across all schools nationally. Introducing statutory suicide prevention teaching in schools would not only target the group most affected by suicide—the under-35s, as we have heard many times this afternoon—but make sure that our children and young people are equipped as they move into adulthood.

According to research, one in three mental health problems in adults can be attributed to childhood experiences, with higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety disorders presenting in later life. Educating our children on mental health will surely only serve to benefit them later. Moreover, mental health teaching within structured school lessons will have incredible benefits through early intervention to prevent suicide, normalise mental health, as many have said, and encourage conversations with support systems, whether that be parents, teachers or external agencies such as Mind or Papyrus.

Furthermore, where better to start following Papyrus’s three key principles—support, equip and influence—than in the classroom? Teaching, of course, should be preventive, and extra care should be taken to signpost a source of support. Promoting positive mental health in schools, however, and putting in place support, including by working with external bodies, is a positive way forward. I have always believed that schools should have trained mental health first aiders within their staff, because the suicide figures that we are seeing today and have spoken about are too high. The wider support is there to provide suicide prevention teaching in schools, and I think this should be considered for implementation.

To conclude, supplying consistent mental health teaching across all schools nationally is a necessity. Although the Government have in the past said that they will be taking forward proposals to train designated senior leads for mental health in schools by 2025 and to fund mental health awareness training, the review of the RSHE curriculum to include suicide prevention should continue to be a priority for the Government. I think it should be brought in as quickly as possible.