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Bereaved Gravesham parent and Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch back calls for suicide prevention education in schools following Westminster debate

Additional reporting by Alan Smith

The step-dad of a teenager who took his own life has backed calls for suicide prevention education to be made compulsory in schools.

Peter Scutts is the director of the Elliott Holmes Memorial Fund (EHMF) which helps fund direct access to mental health counselling for young people in Gravesham.

Peter Scutts thinks it should be mandatory and part of wider mental health discussions. Photo: Elliott Holmes Memorial Fund
Peter Scutts thinks it should be mandatory and part of wider mental health discussions. Photo: Elliott Holmes Memorial Fund

It also works with local secondary schools to reach students with complex issues, and in the past 11 months, it has referred and funded 52 teenagers.

But he believes more help is still needed and the topic of suicide prevention should be included in lessons as part of a wider discussion on mental health.

MPs have this week been discussing whether the issue should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

Speaking to KentOnline following a debate held in Westminster, Mr Scutts said: "We need to come to terms with the fact young people are growing up in a different environment than say 25 years ago.

"The subject of suicide needs to be mandatory, but included in a wider more coordinated and evidence-informed approach to mental health in schools.

Elliott Holmes took his own life
Elliott Holmes took his own life

"This will lead to improved pupil and student wellbeing, which, in turn, can also improve learning."

Mr Scutts' step-son and former Meopham Secondary School pupil Elliott Holmes took his own life after struggling for several years with his mental health, aged 19.

Alongside partner and Elliott's mum, Kerry, Mr Scutts started the EHMF in 2021 with the aim of providing funded private therapy for young people aged between 13 and 18 living in Gravesham.

He explained recent statistics show one in five young people are struggling with a mental health disorder, which has only increased over the last few years.

Data from the Office for National Statistics also shows that between April 2020 and March 2021, 229 youngsters between 10 years old and 19 years old died by suicide.

An inquest was held on Monday at County hall, Maidstone, into the death of a 13-year-old school-girl who took her own life.

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The Chatham teenager – who we are not naming at the request of coroner James Dillon – died in December after suffering with poor mental health for at least four years, the court heard.

She had been receiving counselling for anxiety and suicidal thoughts and had undergone a course of cognitive behavioural therapy in 2021.

The court heard she had left a note on her phone and the day before her death had written in her diary how her mental health had worsened and she was having suicidal thoughts.

Mr Dillon reached a conclusion of suicide after hearing the evidence presented.

The Westminster debate held on Monday afternoon follows a campaign by three dads who have all lost a child to suicide.

Known as The 3 Dads Walking, they have been calling for the government to change the curriculum and the campaign has gained around 160,000 signatures on their online petition.

Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, spoke in the debate on Monday
Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, spoke in the debate on Monday

The debate discussed if suicide and self-harm awareness should be included on the national curriculum and also how this should be done to ensure it is age appropriate.

Speaking in Westminster, MP for Chatham and Aylesford Tracey Crouch (Con), shared her support. She said: "The debate is one we all wish was not necessary. Sadly, it is.

"As local MPs, we are often approached by constituents with some of the most tragic and challenging circumstances, and we do our utmost to support them and provide the right advice.

"However, being approached by a parent whose child has taken their own life is utterly heartbreaking, and I suspect it leaves most of us struggling to find the right words of advice and support.

"I am sorry to say that I have learned of too many suicides in and around my constituency.

"Each and every one is a tragedy. Each and every one is a person with a unique story. Each and every one is a life taken too soon."

MP Tracey Crouch read words from Ryan Hughes' dad
MP Tracey Crouch read words from Ryan Hughes' dad

She went on to share the stories of Ryan Hughes, 17, and Ben Ambrose, 15, who both died by suicide.

Ryan's body was found last year after he went missing from his home in Eccles. She said: "Ryan’s disappearance and subsequent recovery was absolutely heartbreaking.

"Ryan was 17, and it turns out that he had made a passing comment at school. Although there is certainly no blame cast, with better awareness could something had been done?"

She read the following from Ryan’s dad: "Whilst we will never know why Ryan did what he did, and we will also never know if having suicide spoken about openly at school might have saved him, we are keen to see suicide awareness and prevention in schools progress.

"If it saves just one person now and again it will be worth it".

Tracey added: "I get why schools might be nervous about having conversations, and why ministers might be nervous about allowing them to be had, but by working with the right people in the right way, we can create a useful tool that would work.

"I understand why some have concerns that we are asking our educators to do so much more than teach maths, English, science and so on, but if we are to take a more holistic approach to addressing mental health, they need the right tools and training."

The minister for schools Nick Gibb said that guidance on the subject of suicide and self-harm is already included in the relationship, sex, and health education programme.

But added the government will be including it as priority in the upcoming review which has been moved forward from September.

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