TEACHER Frances Beck is still struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her son Conor last year.

Conor, who was 24, killed himself after struggling to cope with bouts of depression while studying at university in Dundee.

Ms Beck, from Stewarton in Ayrshire, blames bullying at his secondary school in Kilmarnock for some of his issues and the fact he left school as early as possible to escape.

But she also believes schools generally are not doing enough to equip all pupils with the skills they need to tackle periods where their mental health suffers.

“Conor was a very intelligent boy, but hated school because he had a lot of bother with bullying and couldn’t wait to leave when he turned 16,” she said.

READ MORE: School mental health crisis not being tackled

“He was called names and made to feel small. He was a target because he had red hair and wore glasses. He was also one of the gentlest, kindest people you would ever come across and so he was seen as a soft target.

“His guidance teachers was fantastic and I can’t fault that, but he wanted to get away from school as soon as he could to get away from the bullies. All the name calling and bullying had a significant impact on his personality.”

After Conor left he struggled to settle into something new, trying different college courses, volunteering on a community radio programme and applying for jobs.

Eventually he settled on a computer games course at Abertay University in Dundee and was enjoying his new-found freedom when he was hit with bouts of depression.


He reluctantly sought help from a doctor and was prescribed anti-depressants, but these made him feel worse. He was then put on different medication, but this too didn’t seem to help him and he stopped taking it.

Just a few days later he was found dead in his bedroom after a night out with friends.

Ms Beck said his suicide might have been prevented if he been taught positive coping skills at schools.

She said: “There needs to be more about encouraging difference and uniqueness in school because everyone is different, but there is a pressure to conform and difference isn’t tolerated.

“But when Conor’s depression hit him he didn’t know how to help himself because he had never been taught how to help himself.

“We were trying to advise him, but he was in a place where he couldn’t hear us or do anything about it whereas if there was something he had learnt at school that he could have turned to as second nature that would have helped.

“We go though life and all its ups and downs and you find ways of coping that aren’t always good. He drank and played computer games all night which wasn’t good for his mental health.”

Ms Beck said the Scottish Government’s review of Personal and Social Education was welcome, but recent policy announcements didn’t go far enough.

Following the review, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled £60 million to help improve pupils’ mental health and ensure every secondary school had counselling services.

Ms Sturgeon also said the £60m would fund an extra 250 school nurses to be in place by 2022.

The government also says it will ensure that, by the end of 2020, every local authority will be offered training for teachers in mental health first aid.

The government said this would provide a response to mild and moderate emotional and mental health difficulties experienced by young people in the form of local help “that is available immediately”.

However, Ms Beck said the strategy still didn’t do enough to recognises the importance of preventing issues of mental health from developing.

She said: “They say they want it to be a priority, but it is reaction rather than prevention. Having more school counsellors is fabulous, but it won’t stop the problems from starting in the first place.”

One school that has adopted a proactive approach to dealing with issues of mental health is St Andrew’s Secondary School, in Glasgow’s east end.

The school teaches a programme called Stress Control, a research-led course developed by consultant clinical psychologist Dr Jim White which offers techniques to cope with anxiety, depression, anger, low self-confidence and poor self-esteem.

The eight week block of lessons taught by Lucy Gallacher, principal teacher of pupil support, include deep breathing exercises to lessen feelings of anxiety and mind techniques to eradicate stressful thoughts.

She said: “Initially pupils find this unusual because it is not the kind of content they are used to in the curriculum, but once they get used to it pupils say they feel the benefits.

“We have had a decrease in pupils coming to the pupil support department citing anxiety and stress and they seem to be managing things a lot better themselves. The number of referrals to in-school counselling services have also reduced.”

Ms Gallacher said the programme was introduced to help pupils cope with exam stress, but the focus was also on more general pressures a young person may experience later on in life.

She added: “These techniques can be used throughout life. This has been an approach based on being proactive rather than reactive and we are giving pupils the techniques to cope throughout their lives.”