Áilín Quinlan hears about a new educational initiative run by Pieta House which targets early teens and aims to boost inner strength

CAN you recall how you felt at age 13 or 14?

Angst-ridden, miserably insecure, paranoid about your appearance and quite possibly being bullied in some way?

This is a time of huge emotional and psychological change, a time when you’re increasingly independent, and moving away from the security offered by your parents — and yet desperately uncertain of your place in the world.

It’s certainly a tumultuous time, says Donal O’Dulaing, principal of St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge.

“As a school principal, I notice that a lot of changes happen in children of that age.

“The influence of the parents diminishes as the child becomes more independent.

“Second-year students are at a stage where they are undergoing a lot of physical and emotional change.”

The early teen years, however, is also possibly a period when we are as open to new ideas and concepts as we will ever be — which is why a special new resilience programme has been created for schoolchildren in this age group.

The six-week course is run through once-weekly sessions at school, exploring a variety of day-to-day issues which are of concern to teenagers — everything from body image and bullying to family life and sexuality.

The Resilience Academy, which is now being rolled out to an increasing number of second-level schools around the country, is specifically aimed at second-year students says David Swaine, training and education coordinator at Pieta House, which runs the Resilience Academy.

“At this time, the brain chemistry starts to change and puberty takes hold — it is a time of transition, emotionally and psychologically,” he explains. “We are basically giving them the tools to develop the resilience to overcome the challenges that life presents.”

Before launching the programme, Pieta House conducted a review of all international school programmes, which gave it a base for the most appropriate target age group and also interviewed school staff to find out from what age they thought was most appropriate.

Teachers felt the programme would be particularly helpful to second-year students, as the novelty of secondary school had worn off, and challenges are starting to present themselves.

Pieta House also spoke to its own clinical staff to find out the age that they thought would be most beneficial, based on client presentations.

What they found was that clinicians agreed with the teachers’ opinions, suggesting that, as early adolescence was a time of huge change physically, emotionally and socially, this would be the optimal age to focus on.

The driving reason behind the programme which ran in eight schools over the past year — two in Dublin, one in Louth and five in Cork, reaching a total of 365 students — is Ireland’s worrying teenage suicide rate.

Recent research by the European Child Safety Alliance and the National Self-Harm Registry shows that this country has the highest suicide rate among teenage girls and the second highest rate amongst teenage boys within the EU.

In 2016, Swaine points out, Pieta House out saw almost 1,000 teenagers — boys and girls — presenting with suicidal ideation (suicidal tendencies) or self-harm issues.

The problem is increasing. Swaine says that over the past five years the organisation has seen a 163% increase in the number of under 18s presenting for their services due to suicide or self-harm.

The Resilience Academy programme plans to steadily increase its reach — it will run in 25 schools in the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.

“Ultimately, the name of the game is prevention,” says David Swaine.“If students are given the strategies of resilience at 13 and 14 years of age, we feel it considerably lessen the chances of them getting to a stage where they need the help of an organisation like Pieta House when they are 18 or 19.”

Feedback from everyone involved in the Resilience Academy, which ran at St Conleth’s College last autumn, was very positive says Mr O’Dulaing, who says it was perceived by students and teachers alike, as a very pro-active programme:

“When I heard about it, I immediately jumped at it. This particular student group can get forgotten.

“First years get a lot of attention as they make the move from primary school into second level and the Junior Certificate students also get a lot of attention. Second years tend to get a bit less attention than other classes.”

More than 50 second-years at St Conleth’s attended the programme he says, and the responses from teachers, pupils and parents were very positive:

“A lot of the topics they deal with in this programme will arise at some stage in the children’s lives.”

The plan is for the Resilience Programme to go national.

“We want to bring this programme to every second-year student throughout the country,” says Swaine.

In this context, the fact that the Resilience Academy has just won a prestigious award, which will provide funding to support its continued implementation, is good news.

The programme is one of the Awardees of the 2017 Engage and Educate Fund. The fund is a three-year commitment between Mason Hayes & Curran, Social Innovation Fund Ireland and the Irish Government which will see €150,000 in funding be shared between 4 or 5 successful applicants each year.

“Winning this award was exactly what we needed to grow the reach and scope of the Academy,” says Swaine, adding that winning the award would provide a capital fund to expand the reach of the programme.

“It allows us to increase our resources and push it to the other parts of the country because we want to reach all schools across Ireland eventually.

“If more companies like Mason Hayes & Curran would come on board and fund this kind of programme the ongoing benefit to local communities around Ireland would be tremendous.”

For more information visit Pieta House at www.pieta.ie


Dig deep

What is the Resilience Academy?

It is an initiative which aims to help young teenagers develop the skills and resilience to help them overcome the challenges that life presents. It is organised and run by Pieta House, a non-profit organisation providing a specialised treatment programme for people who have suicidal ideation or who participate in self-harming.

How does it work?

It is a six-week programme of once-weekly sessions specially designed for teenagers aged 13 or 14 who are in their second year of second-level education. Week one is a foundation course, in which the facilitators, who are trained therapists, meet separately with students and also with teachers, to discuss the concept of resilience. Students choose four of the following modules: body image, bullying, family, mental health, school life, friendship, sexuality and substance use. Each week, for the next four weeks, one of the selected modules is explored in detail. The final week is a consolidation session.

Does it help?

Two years ago, when Pieta House ran a pilot programme in a number of schools focusing on focus groups of 13 and 14-year-olds, researchers discovered that students reported a 20% increase in feelings of connectedness with their school, a 15% increase in how to handle feelings and a 14% increase in hope for the future.


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