Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum

Mike Amesbury Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for bringing this petition to us.

My constituent Mike Palmer’s daughter, Beth, died by suicide on 28 March 2020, in the first week of lockdown. She was just 17. She was a talented singer, with a vivacious personality. She was deeply loved by friends and family—a great character who belonged on stage. Indeed, Beth was the last person anyone would have thought would take her own life. She had so much to live for. Sadly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), the chair of the APPG, said, this is far too common: suicide is the biggest killer of under-35s in the UK, with around 200 school children each year taking their own lives.

Mike felt Beth’s loss so acutely that he was plunged into a suicidal spiral himself. A complex grief is left behind for families. The facts show that around 135 people are affected by one suicide and that those closest to the individual lost are 80% to 300% times more likely to take their own lives. However, through that despair, fate was to play a part. Mike was to team up with Tim and Andy, the fathers of two other beautiful young women, Emily and Sophie, who were also sadly lost to suicide, and so 3 Dads Walking was born.

For these men, a simple walk between their homes, raising funds and awareness for the charity Papyrus, which is dedicated to the prevention of young suicide, has turned into a life mission to prevent other families from going through the same lifelong agony that they face. Walking in 2021 and 2022, they covered over 900 miles and were on the road for 46 days. During the walks, Mike, Andy and Tim were joined continuously by other bereaved parents and those affected by suicide. Through conversations with those individuals, the same messages kept coming through: if our children had only known how to reach out, and had had an awareness of how to keep themselves safe, they might be here now. 3 Dads Walking believes that, if our young people’s greatest danger is themselves, we as a society should tell them and teach them, in an age-appropriate and sensitive way, how to keep themselves and others safe.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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I put on record that many of my constituents in Weaver Vale have been inspired by 3 Dads Walking, and the clarion call to ensure that suicide prevention is integrated into the curriculum and that there is greater regulation. The call for greater regulation of online harm has come from my constituents who have been affected by suicide in their family.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane
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I thank my colleague for his intervention. I am sure that the Education Minister will have heard that fully. I know the Minister to be an extraordinarily honourable man who takes the education of our children seriously, as I previously shadowed him in the post for a number of years.

We should talk about mental health in schools more, building the awareness and coping mechanisms that will foster more positive mental wellbeing and resilience in young people and helping to lay the foundations that will keep young people safe and reverse the tragically high rates of young suicide. Mike tells me that some of the most powerful stories that the 3 Dads hear on their walks are from those who have experienced severe mental health episodes, and in some cases have attempted suicide, but who have overcome those struggles and are now living happily, with full lives. Those stories show that hope is always possible and that people, especially with support, can make different choices and overcome the worst mental health struggles. Is an alternative outcome for families affected by suicide not worth fighting for? Surely the testimonies starkly demonstrate what is at stake if we do not act and what we can offer if we do. By providing life-saving knowledge to our young people, we can give them and their families an alternative path—a path to hope, a path to a happy and full life for them and their loved ones. That is a path that everyone deserves.