‘Make mental health first aid training compulsory for teachers’, says brother of suicide victim

Katy Clifton
Sam West (left) with brother Ben: Ben West

An 18-year-old who was left heartbroken after his brother committed suicide earlier this year has launched a campaign to make mental health a compulsory part of teacher training.

Sam West, who lived near Cranbrook, Kent, took his own life when he was just 15 years old, three months after being diagnosed with clinical depression in September 2017.

His heartbroken brother Ben recalls hearing screams through his headphones that evening, before he desperately tried to resuscitate his younger brother for half an hour as paramedics arrived.

Eight months after his brother’s death, the 18-year-old, also from Kent, is now campaigning to make mental health training compulsory for teachers in the UK.

The University of Liverpool student told the Standard there is “no question” his brother would have benefited from the training, as a large part of his final three months were spent at school.

Sam West took his own life in January 2018 (Ben West)

“If you can have teachers who know roughly what to say, can give pupils advice and can make a connection with them, then that’s going to help massively,” Mr West said.

“You’re going to see them pretty much every day and that’s a really big thing, it could really help someone. To me, there’s no question as to whether the training would have helped my brother.

“As part of research into ways of helping young people suffering with mental health conditions in schools we found that staff are generally not equipped to deal with problems faced by some students as they don't have the knowledge to do so.

“The same would apply if we consider physical injuries, teachers without training wouldn't know what to do with or how to spot a concussion, for example. Therefore, to protect the students most schools train a number of staff in first aid and almost all have a basic understanding of the practice.

“On the contrary, very little staff members, and in some cases no staff, have mental health first aid training of any degree."

Since his brother's death, Ben founded PROJECT #WalkToTalk and raised £15,000 after walking from Cranbrook to Westminster over 10 days (Ben West)

The ‘Save our Students’ petition has gained more than 153,000 signatures in two weeks. It says an average of three students per class have a diagnosable mental health condition.

Although the teenager says his brother’s school were “absolutely fantastic” in helping with his brother after his diagnosis, he added: “Suddenly you can just flick a switch and it can all go wrong”.

“If we can save one family from what I’ve had to go through, if I can save one brother from what I’ve had to do, that would be a success in my eyes," he said.

“No brother should have to stand up at a funeral and talk about his 15-year-old brother, that shouldn't happen. It is stuff no teenager should have to deal with.

“My family has come through as a unit and that’s been the most important thing from the start, even from the day after it was just like ‘we’re going to get through this together’.

“No one should ever have to experience the loss and confusion of losing someone to suicide and I hope that this petition can save at least one family the awful pain we've had to and continue to face.”

Responding to the campaign, a Government spokesperson said they are working to support all schools to identify and train a designated lead for mental health.

They said: “We are working hard to improve mental health support for every young person, which is why through our mental health green paper we are introducing a new specialist workforce to help school staff recognise the signs of mental health problems much earlier.

“Under our proposals, we will also support all schools to identify and train a designated lead for mental health, funding new training to help these leads put in place a whole school approach to mental health.

“The green paper plans also include provision for mental health first aid and awareness training for a member of staff in every secondary school by 2019 and every primary school by 2022.

“To date, we have trained over 1,300 staff and reached over 1,000 schools.”

For confidential support on mental health call the Samaritans on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or attend a local Samaritans branch.