Dubai: Preventing teen suicides requires the whole school's involvement - from students to teachers to janitors - to best identify the warning signs of the health problem, says a leading expert on teenage suicide.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers suicide a public health problem among youths, listed as one of the leading causes of death among young people globally. A study by the UAE education and health ministries for the WHO in 2004 found that 12.7 per cent of students between the ages of 13 and 15 seriously considered suicide.
Dr Veronique Naborni, involved in drafting the suicide prevention (SUPRE) programme for the WHO, said schools were well-placed to prevent the problem, rather than at home.
"Children spend many days in schools. It is the perfect centre for teamwork to prevent suicide," she told delegates at the first Mental Health International Conference in the UAE, which ends today.
"Schools and staff should all be involved, be aware and be able to diagnose suicide risks, which can happen at any age," she added.
Warning signs include sudden and dramatic changes affecting their performance, attendance and behaviour. At that point, a risk-assessment should be done to find out whether there have been any previous attempts at suicide, depression risk, family history of mental health problems and family history of suicide.
Dr Naborni said schools also needed to strengthen the mental health of school teachers and school staff, making sure they were not over-stressed so that they would be able to cater to the needs of the students. The UAE currently has a shortage of trained and qualified school counselors and social workers.
Aisha Mansour, a Ministry of Education social worker in Sharjah, told Gulf News that she was one of only two counselors expected to deal with the psychological and social needs of the whole student body.
In these circumstances, Dr Naborni said schools needed to prepare leaflets and provide information on helplines.