Some schools are shying away from inviting mental health professionals to talk to their pupils about suicide because of a fear that talking about it will increase the risk.
Laura Maybury, head of clinical services at Cork Counselling Services (CCS), said: “The myth is that if we talk about suicide, it will put it in people’s heads.”
She said there had been a couple of schools over the years who “were initially interested in our Suicide Prevention Programme, but then withdrew”.
“There is a real fear that if we talk about suicide, people will start to think about it. But there is no evidence that talking about it increases the risk. Actually the opposite is the case. Talking about it encourages people to ask for help.”
Despite the value of discussing suicide and raising awareness about prevention, Ms Maybury said they continually struggle with underfunding of their school programme.
“We have a large waiting list for this programme and a public impatience expressed at community level to extend the initiative to all schools. Unless we receive additional funding, these adolescents will not receive this specialist service.”
The programme has run in schools around Cork City and in Bandon, Ballyvourney, Midleton, Glanmire and Ballincollig, but Ms Maybury said numbers attending in 2016 showed a slight decrease on the previous year, due to lack of funds.
“It’s a pity we have to fight so hard for funds in this area. Our work aims to intervene quickly and effectively so that issues can be dealt with and an escalation of difficulties avoided.”
The programme, aimed at transition year students, is delivered to, on average, 10 schools a year, but in the absence of guaranteed funding, CCS is obliged to create a waiting list.
The funding shortfall is also impacting on their ability to provide long-term counselling, Ms Maybury said.
“Funding might cover six to eight sessions which is really only enough for short-term crisis intervention — what brought the person to the point of suicide. But that person will be back again down the line because the there was no opportunity to work through the trigger factors,” noted Ms Maybury who said this creates a “revolving door” system.
While CCS receives small annual grants from the HSE and Tusla and earns fees raised through its Training Institute, Ms Maybury said they rely largely on independent grant sources.
Despite the constant struggle for funding, CCS, on Fr Mathew St, Cork, is now in its 35th year.
Statistics for 2016 show it is delivering counselling and psychotherapy to 408 clients, both adult and children, including 239 new clients last year, regardless of ability to pay. It delivered 2,938 hours of one-to-one counselling in 2016.
“Not everybody is convinced about the effectiveness of counselling, so we need to clearly prove it,” said Hugh Morley, head of business at CCS.
The service treats those struggling with depression, bereavement, relationship issues, sexual and emotional abuse, domestic violence, rape, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, and anxiety.
CCS will host a research conference this weekend to assist counsellors gather evidence to prove the value of their work. Called “Friend Not Foe — Developing the Researcher Role in Psychotherapeutic Practice” — it takes place in Marymount conference centre on May 5 and 6.
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