Suicide and self-harm support organisation, Pieta House, conducted focus groups as part of a pilot project for its Resilience Programme, which is currently operating in seven schools in Cork and Dublin.
They found that the top student concern, at 50% of those asked, was school pressure, ahead of body image, anxiety and bullying, including cyber-bullying.
The finding was presented at a national conference, last week, into the issue of self-harm, organised by St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin.
According to Catherine Hughes, of Pieta House: “In every school that we visited, school pressure was the biggest concern for students.”
The Resilience Programme enables people to use their own strengths when faced with challenges, and creates a safe and confidential space where they can talk and be supported.
The programme was put together following interviews with teachers and student focus groups. It provides tips on how to adapt school culture to reduce student self-harm and suicidal ideation.
It employs long-term strategies incorporated into the curriculum, such as a five-week programme and outside, expert facilitators rather than staff.
Catherine Hughes said: “We have had seven schools involved at this stage. Once the pilot/evaluation phase is completed, we have a waiting list of schools who hope to host the programme.”
The conference also heard that many secondary-school students who accessed in-school counselling claimed they had more than one issue that concerned them.
Jimmy O’Connell, a school counsellor in St Peter’s College, in Dunboyne, in Co Meath, gave a presentation on the programme in his own school.
Statistics for the last full school year, to summer 2015, showed that 141 students availed of counselling — 97 girls and 44 boys, with 11 having self-harmed, including seven girls.
Family issues were cited as the reason for school-counselling referrals in 38 cases — more than a quarter of all referrals. Fourteen girls cited conflict with friends as a reason for the referral, and nine said school or exam anxiety were to blame. The most prevalent reason for referral among teenage boys was aggressive behaviour, at nine, while eight said it was due to stress and anxiety.
But the vast majority of students attending counselling at the school said they had more than one stressor: 33 students said they had three stressors, 29 students said they had two, and 26 said they had four.
The in-school counselling service complements the Jigsaw Meath School Project, which was established after eight youth suicides in the county, in 2005 and 2006, none of whom were known to HSE services.