Teen’s suicide highlights tragic student vulnerability
The shock suicide of a "very successful, involved and respected" Year 11 student at Kelvin Grove State College three years ago not only rocked the school community but amplified the vulnerability of five other teenagers at the school.
It comes as The Courier-Mail learns children as young as nine are being screened for depression as Queensland schools urgently implement new ways to tackle a youth suicide "epidemic".
Executive principal Llew Paulger said the death came "completely out of the blue" and "the wave through the college was enormous".
"At the time of that incident we were watching five other students closely, and for them it was a real trigger to exacerbate their vulnerabilities," Mr Paulger said.
"But we knew about these students, and we had layers of support, both internal and external, around them, and they made it through."
For Mr Paulger, who has been at the helm of one of Queensland's largest schools since 2015, said "millions of dollars every year" had been spent on student mental wellbeing, which had become more important than academic results.
"You can't access the magic in the classroom if you are not emotionally well - we don't shy away from academic excellence but we focus firstly on mental health."
In a school of 3600 students, aged five to 18 and representing 67 nationalities, the core message is connection.
"In the middle and senior schools where students have more than one teacher, we have an overt focus - that every child should hear their name said every day in every class.
"People might think it's simplistic but it's not; how can you feel connected if no-one knows your name?"
Kelvin Grove State College has huge year levels of up to 500 students, but there are several coordinators in each to build close bonds.
"We have layers and layers of people to create genuine interaction," Mr Paulger said.
"In a school this size it could otherwise be easy for students to become invisible.
"Right from Prep, students are taught 'you're a KG kid'; we are constantly checking in."
The memorial for the lost Year 11 student was held on school grounds so students and teachers could mourn together and also "celebrate that wonderful young life".
"It's not about hiding from those issues, it's about making sure people understand there is always someone who will listen, and schools do that brilliantly well, I think," Mr Paulger said.
"What will often be found months after, when families reflect on other incidents that have absolutely nothing to do with school, the trigger is external.
"Many of the vulnerabilities and insecurities young people have are because of a perception they have to keep up with this or that image.
"We say to them, 'find your tribe, people who will wrap around you and positively support you'."
The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467.
Originally published as Teen's suicide highlights tragic student vulnerability