Mental health issues are manifesting in “younger and younger” students, NI’s children’s commissioner has said.
Koulla Yiasouma has called for an expansion in the mental health services available to primary school students.
She called for services currently available at post-primary level to be made available for younger pupils.
It comes as the principal of a north Belfast primary said she has graves concerns about the mental health issues her school, and others, are facing.
“Teachers are not trained health educationalists,” said Corinne Latham.
“They don’t have the background to fully support young people with mental health issues.”
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‘We pay from our own budgets’
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, the principal of Seaview Primary said that since the start of the school year there had been five suicides in the local community connected to her school.
“So I started my term off going to the homes of families connected to my school. That was devastating,” she said.
Ms Latham called for statutory support for school counselling for primary school pupils.
“It is something that is really required and… [currently] we have to pay out of our own school budgets to provide a counselling service to young people,” she said.
She added counselling for students came at a cost of about £50 a session.
‘We need to expand’
Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said she was “consistently” hearing from teachers about year one and year two pupils having “heightened states of anxiety”.
“In our post-primary setting every school, every child has access to counselling in schools,” she said.
“Quietly, and without any stigma, they can access an accredited counselling service.
“We need to see that replicated within our primary setting. We are seeing children’s distress manifested younger and younger.”