Suicide attempt rate may be one child per class
The rate of attempted suicide among school-age teenagers could be as high as one child per class, according to disturbing new research highlighted by the Children's Ombudsman who has demanded that more help be given to at-risk youngsters.
The study - carried out on over 1,000 children with an average age of 13 - found that 14pc of teenagers had depressive symptoms, 24pc had anxiety and up to 20pc had attempted self-harm.
Young Lives in Ireland, a school-based study of mental health and suicide prevention, was carried out by the National Suicide Research Foundation to identify risk and protective factors for adolescents between the ages of 13 and 16.
A total of 1,096 students - 600 boys and 496 girls - took part from 17 mainstream, mixed-sex public secondary schools across Cork and Kerry.
The research also showed that 7pc of teens had had some type of suicidal thoughts.
Almost 4pc had attempted suicide.
Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said that while Ireland had made progress in removing the stigma of suicide, we were putting young people at risk by not giving teenagers the help they needed.
"We are bringing them out of the shadows - and then leaving them exposed in sunlight without the proper services," said Dr Muldoon, who is a psychologist.
"Sometimes, children are going into adult A&Es and haven't been able to get services.
"Children's rights are being damaged all the time in that situation; they need help immediately and it is not being provided for them."
Dr Muldoon said identifying mental health problems early was key to reducing the incidence of suicide and suicide attempts - but if it does happen, we need to make a swift response.
"If we can prevent it, fantastic. But if it does happen, we need to be there to pick up the pieces," he said.
The ombudsman spoke out to support the pioneering partnership between the St John of God mental health hospital and Youth Advocate Programmes Ireland (YAP).
In the first initiative of its kind in Ireland, adolescents in mental health care will have access to an independent advocate, who can listen to their concerns, inform them of their rights and accompany them to appointments.
"There are a lot of people making a lot of decisions in a mental health setting and it is important the children receiving care have their voices heard and valued," Dr Muldoon added.
"This allows another independent voice with no ties to therapy or direction. It's a really strong asset."