At least 150 people have been directly impacted by each of the nine suicides at north shore schools since January.
Educators and mental health professionals are scrambling to ensure the close contacts of suicide victims are given grief counselling and “postvention” support to head off another tragedy.
The deaths have been at both public and private schools along the length of the affluent region, home to some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the country.
The principal of one Sydney school has begged parents to reach out to their children.
“We need to communicate with our kids because this stuff is all out there unfiltered on social media and they may not be getting the information they need,” they said.
“Whenever someone suicides at school it has a direct and immediate impact on 150 people.
“These kids would be really hurting and thousands would be impacted by what has happened.”
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The Sunday Telegraph has launched its Can We Talk campaign to ensure every NSW teacher has mental health first aiding training.
We are also calling on the NSW Government to increase the ratio of counsellors to students to 1:500 – a figure the government agreed to in 2018 but has not yet fulfilled.
Many schools don’t have a full-time counsellor at all, forced to share with other schools.
“There is no reasonable way a school counsellor can cater for 750 students alone, and increasing high school overcrowding has meant many counsellors are dealing with student populations above 1000 students and in some cases close to 2000 students,” state opposition education spokeswoman Pru Car said.
Sydney University Brain and Mind Centre co-director Ian Hickie said the crisis is not limited to the north shore.
“I am aware that there are concerns along the north shore of Sydney, but there are other concerns in the eastern suburbs and there are also concerns in western and south western Sydney,” he said.
“But this is a national issue – it is not just because of the virus problems in the past month in Victoria.
“It is really driven by the social and economic dislocation, and importantly by educational and life opportunities for young people.”
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the NSW Government is rolling out the $88.4 million election commitment to improve mental health and wellbeing support in schools.
“By July 2023, every public high school in NSW will have either a school counsellor or psychologist on site, as well as a full-time student support officer.”
NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Originally published as 150-person ripple effect of student suicide ‘cluster’