Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland principal calls for mental health support for pupils following tragedies


By Mark Bain

The principal of a Co Tyrone school which has suffered a series of tragedies in the last 18 months is calling on the authorities to do more to deal with mental health issues for children.

Aodhan Ward (15) became the third Drumragh Integrated College pupil to die in sudden circumstances since late 2016.

The death of the Year 11 pupil at his Plumbridge home on Monday came seven months after his father, well-known local businessman Nishi Ward (45), was killed in a quad bike accident on the family farm.

And principal Nigel Frith has called on the education and health departments to work more closely together to provide schools with the support they need to help pupils through mental health issues.

Guiding the school through tragedy has been all too common for Mr Frith, who said the system for dealing with critical incidents needs a complete overhaul. He said there is a tidal wave of anxiety and no coherent strategy to help students cope anywhere in Northern Ireland.

"There needs to be better planning between health and education. They need to work together to help support schools," he said.

"We need health professionals who are working in partnership with schools, are coming to schools.

"In the same way we have counselling provision, we need occupational therapists and medical health professionals working in partnership with every school.

"And in the same way we have cross-curricular subjects like literacy and numeracy, children need to be learning about hope and resilience in the classroom. They need to become subjects taught in every school."

The Education Authority has provided a critical incident response team this week to provide professional support for staff and pupils who may be struggling to cope, particularly with school exams taking place.

"We have held initial assemblies to share our grief and begin the grieving process together," Mr Frith said.

"We're making it clear to them that school is a safe place and they are welcome to grieve here and reach out to each other.

"But they also know they have professional support here if they need it."

Counsellors will be available to pupils at the school.

In November 2016 Clare McSorley (18) died shortly after leaving Drumragh Integrated and five months later the school lost Year 12 student Elle Trowbridge. Popular English teacher Graham Peters (40) also lost his life to cancer last July.

Aodhan's death is a further blow to the school community.

He had helped carry his father's coffin into the church last November and led the funeral cortege in a red tractor.

Father Roland Colhoun has been supporting the devastated family.

Speaking this week, he said: "The family is naturally distraught - it is a double tragedy for them coming just six months after Nishi's sudden death.

"This is a family who deserve no suffering and yet it has been visited upon them twice in such a short space of time."

Aodhan's funeral will be held at Sacred Heart Church in Plumbridge this morning. Following requiem mass he will be buried in the same graveyard as his father.

Belfast Telegraph

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