‘Losing a child to suicide is one of the worst a parent can live through’

Cllr Richard Roberts with Youth Health Champions.

Cllr Richard Roberts with Youth Health Champions.

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A couple from Tring whose teenage son took his own life are supporting a new training scheme in the county.

Robert and Belinda Stringer tragically lost their son, Hector, when he was just 18.

They are supporting a new, innovative training programme exploring mental health in young people which is being delivered to secondary schools in Hertfordshire, for the first time.

The Emotional Wellbeing unit is part of the Youth Health Champions training led by Hertfordshire County Council’s Youth Connexions.

The Stringer family have been working closely with Youth Connexions Hertfordshire to create a session based on Hector and how best to support friends who may be self-harming or feeling suicidal.

Robert said: “Losing a child to suicide is one of the worst things a parent can live through. We want to tell our story because we feel passionate about making sure other families don’t go through what we have.

“Young people are not always aware that they are becoming depressed and gradually isolating themselves but talking about how they are feeling, and being honest with someone who is able to listen, can make the world of difference.

“The Youth Health Champion training is exactly the sort of initiative we need to encourage schools to adopt. If this stops just one other family from going through what we’ve been through then all our efforts will have been worth it.”

Although Hertfordshire’s children enjoy higher than UK average levels of wellbeing and attainment at least one child in 10 has a diagnosable mental health problem. This equates to 3 children in every class. The most common mental health issues affecting children include conduct disorders, anxiety, depression and hyperkinetic disorder (severe ADHD).

National figures indicate that 75% of mental illness in adult life begins before the age of 18; failure to address mental health issues in young people can lead to a lifetime of mental and physical ill health.

The Emotional Wellbeing unit, commissioned by the Royal Society of Public Health and devised by Youth Connexions Hertfordshire, examines theory relating to building resilience in young people. This is done through developing an understanding of stress and how to deal with it, the roles of sleep and gratitude in mental wellbeing in addition to promoting self-confidence and self-awareness.

Commenting on the implementation of the course Colette Wyatt-Lowe, chairman of Hertfordshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board and spokesperson for the Hertfordshire Year of Mental Health, said: “The effect of mental health conditions on young people can’t be underestimated and the earlier we can identify the problem, the better. We are working closely with schools to promote positive messages and practice around mental health to help young people both inside and outside the classroom.”

A compelling element of the new course is a facilitated session examining self-harm and suicidal feelings. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, with 76% of all suicides in 2014 being men.

The Emotional Wellbeing unit was recently delivered as part of the Youth Health Champion training when year 12 participants were extremely engaged in the course.

Comments included:

“I’ve learnt how broad a subject mental health is, how important it is to really talk about these things. People with mental health issues feel happier if they talk and if we can take away the massive stigma – it shouldn’t be seen as bad and is stopping people getting help. Mental health is an illness as much as a physical illness and people have to have the confidence to talk to someone. This has helped me be confident to talk to others.” Hannah

“I have learnt that there is always something you can do to make life better, even when bad things happen we can make some good of it.” Zainab

Hertfordshire County Council is one of the first local authorities in the country to train Youth Health Champions in secondary schools - where teenagers help their fellow pupils explore and understand a range of issues, from mental health problems to alcohol misuse and physical health.

Hertfordshire County Council’s Youth Health Champions was featured on BBC’s Inside Out (East) recently.