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In a recent session of the All Party Group on Mental Health's inquiry into mental health education and early intervention in schools, Paul Gilligan from St. Patrick's Mental Health Services, Dublin shed light on the critical role schools play in safeguarding and improving the mental well-being of children in the Republic of Ireland.
Paul emphasized that schools should not merely be centres for academic learning but also hubs for nurturing the mental health of children and young people. He stressed that a holistic education, encompassing academic, emotional, social, and physical dimensions, is essential for children's well-being. According to him, this well-rounded education is the key to ensuring that children benefit the most from their time in school.
In addition, Paul highlighted the importance of schools adopting a proactive approach in identifying early signs of mental health distress in students. He pointed out that an excessive focus on academic achievement or competitiveness can be detrimental to students' mental health, urging schools to prioritize a balanced approach.
During his presentation, Paul also provided an overview of various initiatives in the Republic of Ireland aimed at promoting mental health in schools. These included the School Self-Evaluation (SSE) process, Social, Personal & Health Education (SPHE), and the National Education Psychological Service (NEPS). He also introduced St. Patrick's Mental Health Services' awareness-raising and education campaign, 'Walk in My Shoes.'
While acknowledging some progress in the Republic of Ireland, Paul Gilligan expressed concern about the inadequacy of mental health provision. He noted that the challenges faced by teachers and young people are evolving into more complex and concerning issues.
To address these issues, Paul made several key recommendations:
Paul's insights from this session underscore the significance of nurturing the mental well-being of children and young people within the educational system. By implementing these recommendations and prioritising a holistic approach to education, schools can become valuable contributors to the mental health of their students.