A Carlisle charity has welcomed a push from an MP in Cumbria to get age-appropriate suicide prevention education in schools.

Neil Hudson, the MP for Penrith and the Border, has again raised a campaign to get it added to the curriculum during a debate about Children’s Mental Health Week 2024, (week commencing February 4).

A recent NHS report found over a fifth of children aged eight to 16 had a probable mental disorder, raising to almost a quarter of 17–19-year-olds.

Dr Hudson said early intervention, in which children are taught how to spot mental illness in themselves and others before it becomes unmanageable.

He said he was inspired by 3 Dads Walking, a group of suicide-bereaved fathers pushing for more suicide awareness and prevention in schools.

The group, which includes Cumbrian Andy Airey, have met with the prime minister, the education secretary, and the mental health minister.

Their efforts, Dr Hudson said, have secured suicide prevention’s place in the ongoing review of relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) guidance.

Also an advocate is Michael Boaden, the chief operating officer at Carlisle Eden Mind, as is the charity itself.

“We’ve worked with young people for a lot of years, and part and parcel of our work has been to provide training to a wide range of children and young people of different age groups.

“It comes under the heading of mental health awareness training, and it’s in that whole business that applies to young people exactly as it applies to adults, which is being aware of when people are changing, are a bit down, or struggling in some way, and being able to offer some support.

“It’s often the simplest things, listening and engaging with the person, so I think it starts with the principle that sometimes it’s easier for young people to open up to their peers, someone they know really well at school.

“I think the key thing we’ve learned over the years is young people do care for each other, we see a lot of upsetting things in the media, but a lot of evidence is out there that young people do look out for each other, and can be very helpful, kind, and supportive, so training and raising mental health awareness can be a very positive thing.”

Data shows a rise in people experiencing mental ill health, as well as young people, but it may not be a rise in mental ill health, more so a rise in people being honest about themselves.

Mr Boaden added: “Thankfully, more people are opening up about these issues, I would say there’s a lot of pressure on young people these days, greater desgrees of pressure, and that comes through the whole issue of academic performance, and the world around us.

“We’ve got a lot of young people who experienced Covid and weren’t able to link up with their friends, and we’re still measuring the impact of that nationally.

“The world is a fast-moving place, and people often point to social media, but that’s only one part of the story, and the internet is also a fantastic thing that young people engage with and get a lot from, so we should be careful when we talk about these issues not to over-generalise.

“I also think we’ve got generations growing up now who feel it’s important to articulate their concerns and issues, and that is good.

“It’s then about how the systems and support kick in the help at the earliest point possible so people aren’t developing issues that aren’t addressed, and fundamentally, it comes back to that whole business of finding space and opportunity to open up and then getting people the support that they need.

“That as we all know is thought in terms of resources, and resources for young people’s mental health have always been at a lower level than we’d need and want, that’s from successive governments.

“The consequences are that people wait and struggle for longer but within a difficult complex picture, one of the things that shines out is that when given the toold, young people will step forward and support each other, and in many ways that is the path we need to take with adults as well.”

On what it means to deliver ‘age-appropriate’ training, Mr Boaden said: “The way we talk about these issues to a younger child is very different to a teenager.

“When we’ve worked with schools, we’ve taken our lead a little bit from them, but the work we’ve done over the years has been really well received by young people and adults.

“At the end of the day, the young people who have these issues and struggle to open up or don’t have the outlets to do so get worse before they get better.

“The earlier we can get people to feel able to open up the better; I would be supportive of any initiative that would help develop the sense of looking out for people and listening.”

Dr Hudson said: "Working to secure suicide prevention in the ongoing RSHE curriculum review alongside the incredible 3 Dads Walking - it was a privilege to again raise awareness for young people's wellbeing in the House of Commons more broadly ahead of Children's Mental Health Week.

"I'm delighted to support Children's Mental Health Week 2024 as parents, charities, teachers - and most importantly young people - come together to shine a light on the importance of mental health."

In the aforementioned debate, Dr Hudson said: “The hon. Member (Dr Rosena Allin-Khan) is making a powerful and passionate speech.

“As an expert specialist clinician, she has touched on the concept of prevention, and the fact that the key is preventive medicine and signposting.

“I have had applied suicide intervention skills training and mental health first aid training.

“I have been privileged to work with 3 Dads Walking, who tragically lost their daughters to suicide.

“A key part of their campaign is to get suicide prevention on to the school curriculum.

“Does the hon. Member agree that prevention is a key part of this that we should invest in, and that we should support efforts to get suicide prevention and assistant mechanisms for helping young people into schools and education colleges, to help our young people’s future?"

Dr Allin-Khan responded in agreement and said: “He’s absolutely right, prevention is better than a cure.”