Westminster Hall debate: e-petition 623390, relating to suicide prevention and the national curriculum
“Thank you, it is humbling for you to call me in today’s debate.
Every step breaks taboos, every mile tells a story, every day hearts are joined in grief and healing as sons and daughters are mourned and celebrated … but the void they have left is beckoning, not only questions, but answers.
As three dads are traversing our nation, they are tearing down the stigma of suicide that too many are wrestling with; they are creating safe spaces to talk. They are ensuring that Sophie, Emily and Beth are heard. And they have brought us all to this place, through their petition, to seek change.
Andy, Tim and Mike. We are indebted to you. Today it is their pleas that must be heard and I sincerely thank them for all they are doing. Having had the privilege of meeting them last week, I know how much this debate means to them, and I am sure that the Minister and Shadow Minister will not only listen, but advance their calls.
Their mission: to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by shattering the stigma surrounding suicide and equipping young people and their communities with the skills to recognise, and respond to, emotional distress.
Across our nation, people are struggling with their mental health. Let’s be honest, we all do, in different ways at different times. For some the night passes quick, while others spiral into a dark and enduring place, where the echoes of despair resonate louder than any hope.
Papyrus, and I sincerely thank them for their work, knows better than anyone, the scale. Our mental health services cannot cope. CAMHS are struggling and with mental health receiving just 8.6% of the health budget, there is no parity of esteem to speak of.
But we know that with early intervention, all but a few would ever need to call on the NHS for care. This is the call from this debate.
Young people talk extensively about mental health, but when the moments get hard, in the silences, it is the toxicity of TikTok that is sucking them into the algorithms of despair, drawing them to make the wrong choices. From self-harm to suicide, children are accessing content that takes them down some very dangerous paths. So as adults, parents, teachers, youth workers, and politicians, let’s acknowledge this and let’s take the necessary steps to keep our young people safe.
Suicide is the biggest killer of under 35s in our country, with 200 school-aged children taken every year. Five young people’s lives are lost every day through suicide. For every life 135 people will grieve. 3.6/100,000 girls and young women and 8/100,000 boys and young men. In 2021, the ONS reported that there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales.
So young people need the skills and resilience to manage the very worst of their emotions. We know that talking is powerful, but without education of young people in knowing who to talk to and how to talk to them, and parents and teachers actively reaching out, we are leaving our young people in danger.
We need a greater therapeutic approach to our education system. We locked up our young people through Covid, and it has proved tougher than anyone could imagine. A generation is really struggling. They don’t need brutal academic stress and harsh disciplinarian regimes such as I have been discussing this morning at a local school in York. The behaviour in schools guidance needs serious revision. They need people to talk to, who can help them work through their anxiety, stress and depression.
They need space to explore and explain.
Mums and dads need tools and skills to support and listen.
Teachers need help too. They need their training to talk about suicide.
We cannot shy away or soften the words, for suicide is real and it is time that the adults in the room caught up with the young people to recognise it. As politicians we can’t be squeamish or in denial, because we are losing our sons and daughters, and sadly mums and dads too.
Life is really tough. People haven’t got enough money, home is not always a safe place, and some young people carry a heavy weight. Life never turns out as you hoped it to be. Bullying is rife. Loneliness epidemic. Toxic social media ever judging and tormenting. And yet we don’t talk about suicide, when that starts playing on the minds of its victims.
So Minister, it is time to teach and it is time to talk. Every child in every school.
We start with the teachers, they need Government backing. Every teacher trained so that they are ready to talk to their students, whatever age or context. Knowing how to check in and reach out, as well as guide and care.
Every school a safe place for parents to learn, to ask those questions that are never aired. For we cannot hear the cries of “why didn’t anyone tell us?” any more.
And then every child. For younger children, it is mental health first aid, having safe conversations when you feel sad but as the years grow, children need to know who to talk to, how to talk and how to keep themselves safe. If we do not talk about suicide, it will find them, but if they are taught resilience, then they will have the skills they need for life to stay safe and keep well.
The Pilgrimage of Tim, Andy and Mike has now brought them to this place, to the Minister’s door. They are not here to beg or plead, because for them, this has come too late. But they are here to tell of what it means to lose their beautiful daughters, and how the tears of other parents, may never need to be shed.
This will probably be the most important debate of the Minister’s time in this place. It is time to open the door, to open minds and open hearts. Let’s listen and learn and ensure that all is done to keep our young people safe. It is time for walking to turn to time for talking.”