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DESSY TZONEVA & CASSEY CHAMBERS | JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Feb 23 2012 08:27

Schools play a critical role in identifying teenagers struggling with mental issues and helping those pupils diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression to reach their full potential socially, academically and extramurally. Also attention must be paid to school policy and teacher training with regard to the handling of a traumatic event, such as the death of a pupil or a teacher.

Difficult to handle
Any death at school is difficult for pupils to handle and often also hard for teachers to cope with and explain. So it is crucial that procedures are put in place before these events occur, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
"For many of us, talking about death is rather uncomfortable," said educator Janine Shamos. "There is also the belief that talking to child­ren about death can make things worse.

"However, in our experience, this is actually vital in controlling and combating the misinformation and confusion that a death often brings."

When it affects teachers and staff
The death of a pupil or teacher affects a school's teachers and other staff, its pupils, their parents and other community members. It is very important that schools should have policies in place that deal with:



The roles of the principal and the team
"A principal faced with such a situation needs to assume a strong leadership role and create a safe environment that offers pupils support and facilitates the healing process," said the depression group's operations director, Cassey Chambers. The organisation recommends the creation of a crisis response team made up of teachers, counsellors and parents. All team members must be aware of their roles in a crisis.

Offering assistance
The team should assist with training, setting up a policy for the school and managing the flow of information and the technicalities in dealing with a tragedy, especially if it occurred at school, as well as ensuring that those grieving or battling to cope with the trauma receive adequate care.

The team should also set up a list of educational psychologists, social workers and trauma counsellors who can be contacted in the event of a tragedy. Information relating to the death should be provided as soon as possible.

"It is important to offer pupils and teachers emotional support," said Chambers. People grieve in different ways depending on their age, previous experiences with death, relationship with the affected person and the circumstances surrounding the death.

Common responses to grief