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13-year-old student petitions for primary school counsellors

After a teenage friend ” jumped in front of a train last year”, 13-year-old Sinead Latimer has bravely committed to advocate for change. 

Ms Latimer explained that she has suffered from depression related to bullying for three years but had to wait until she started college to be offered help.

With 60 days left to gather signatures and more than 1000 logged so far, the petition asks the House of Representatives to look at providing primary schools with counsellors.

The NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC) has backed the college student’s plea to government to place counsellors in primary and intermediate schools.

Sinead Latimer’s petition can be found here. 

Ms Latimer says she is pleased NZAC is backing her and she hopes the government will now take this whole issue more seriously.

“We need counsellors in primary and intermediate schools now if we have any chance of saving our lives,” she says.

“And I want MPs to hear my voice, and those of many others – young and old – who are pleading to help our young people earlier.”

NZAC president, Bev Weber, says school guidance counsellors in primary and intermediate schools are long overdue.

“Kiwis are presenting with mental health issues at a younger and younger age, often as young as eight or nine years old.

“And they are presenting with increasingly serious issues, too.

“We can’t just ignore these problems until the child gets to see a counsellor at secondary school as happened in Sinead’s case. That delay can potentially embed the issue and cause longer-term consequences.

“Nor can we leave it to primary or intermediate teachers to deal with in the absence of a counsellor. Dealing with mental health issues affecting their young charges is not a teacher’s job.

“We hope Sinead’s petition generates the awareness and support that it needs.”

Sinead suffered depression for three years due to bullying, and it wasn’t until she moved to Kuranui College in Greytown that she finally received access to a counsellor.

But why did she have to wait – like many other young people – until she attended secondary school before professional help was available, she asked?

She raised the point in May when addressing the hundreds who marched to parliament grounds for teen suicide awareness, calling on the government to address one of New Zealand’s greatest tragedies.

If there was earlier intervention for students like her in primary and intermediate schools, then young people might feel less likely to do the unthinkable, Sinead said.

If she can help just one young person through this journey, she says the death of one of her friends – aged 15 – won’t be in vain.

Mum, Rochelle, hopes the backing of NZAC will add weight to her daughter’s petition, and politicians will take notice.

“Getting counsellors into primary and intermediate schools is a must.”

Read more: Handling suicidal ideation in school

Read more: 5 self-care tips for grieving teachers

Read more: Bully talk: how can we turn these statistics around?

Read more: More than half of mental disorders begin in teenage years


Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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