Belfast Telegraph

Outrage over Northern Ireland grammar school formal award for 'most likely to kill oneself'

By Brett Campbell

Sixth form pupils at a grammar school in Northern Ireland have sparked outrage after presenting a so-called award for the student 'most likely to kill yourself'.

The disturbing move came as the teenagers, who attend Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, handed out "light-hearted" awards at their annual formal.

The school is investigating the incident. The formal and the awards were organised by the pupils.

Principal Elizabeth Armstrong confirmed she was aware of the issue - first reported in the Fermanagh Herald - and that some sixth formers expressed deep concerns about it.

"We are supporting them as a school as they deal responsibly and sensitively with it," she said.

Ms Armstrong said the school was helping to ensure that the "clear and unambiguous" message about the need for extreme care "at all times about the power of our written and spoken words, for ill as well as good" is learned.

"This is a key theme which in the days of instant comment and rapid interchanges on social media we all need to be aware of," she said.

"We have programmes in place in school involving relevant external agencies to raise pupil awareness of the importance of mental health issues and the need for extreme caution, sensitivity and empathy around these matters."

Siobhan Doherty, chief executive of Aware, the national depression charity for Northern Ireland, said the language used in addressing suicide was important and called for sensitivity when speaking about it.

"At Aware we actively encourage young people to talk about how they are feeling and if they are worried about themselves or others," she said.

"Talking about suicide in an insensitive manner is not helpful for any young person who may be suffering from depression.

"We deliver Mood Matters to young people in post-primary schools throughout Northern Ireland. This is a mental health awareness programme which helps young people understand more about mental illness.

"Within this programme we talk about the language used around mental ill-health and how best to address it."

Raymond Farrell, mental health practitioner and DUP councillor for Erne North, said he hoped the students would reflect on the "award" and realise it was not a wise decision.

"I am very conscious that when young people have a night out, things can be said and organised that afterwards they may question the wisdom of," he said.

"There are families who have lost loved ones through suicide and there may be people in that social group who have family members who have mental health problems - for some people it may have been extremely sensitive to them."

Ms Armstrong acknowledged the school had more work to do in raising awareness of mental health issues and insisted action had already been taken.

"Clearly we need to do more to get the message across to all of our pupils," she said.

"The lesson is not lost on us as a school and on our senior pupil leaders who are already planning with senior management to invite a speaker into school to speak about these crucial issues again with our sixth form."

In 2015 it was recorded that 318 people died in Northern Ireland after taking their own lives.

If you are in need of help, you can contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000, or the Samaritans on 028 9066 4422, email jo@samaritans.org, text 07725 90 90 90 or visit www.samaritans.org

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