Hector’s legacy: parents voice support for young health champions

Hector Stringer, who died in 2011

Hector Stringer, who died in 2011

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A couple whose 18-year-old son took his own life have helped implement a new scheme training teenagers to tackle health issues among their peers.

Robert and Belinda Stringer, whose son Hector tragically died in April 2011, are supporting Hertfordshire County Council’s work to tackle health issues among young people.

Youth health champions Sorcha Lane, Faiza Saif, Hannah Fleetwood and Lexi Birks at The Priory School in Hitchin

Youth health champions Sorcha Lane, Faiza Saif, Hannah Fleetwood and Lexi Birks at The Priory School in Hitchin

The council is one of the first local authorities in the country to train youth health champions in secondary schools, which are teenagers helping fellow pupils on issues such as mental health problems, binge drinking and physical health. Mr Stringer, who is also a parent to Lotte, 28, and JJ, 26, with Belinda, said: “Losing a child to suicide is one of the worst things a parent can live through. But we want to tell our story because we feel passionate about making sure other families don’t go through what we have.

Mr Stringer approached the council’s director of public health, Jim McManus, who he says has been ‘amazing’, to ask what the county was doing to support those considering suicide.

He said: “Young people’s mental health is, sadly, still a taboo subject. It’s amazing how many families with a child experiencing mental health problems still try to pretend nothing is wrong. There is so much help out there. If a child has a broken leg, you don’t let them walk around with it – you get help. It should be the same for mental health issues.

“If I could say one thing to families who feel their child may be experiencing mental health problems, I would say don’t leave it – understand that you need help and find out where you can get it.”

If this stops just one other family from going through what we’ve been through, then all our efforts will have been worth it.

Robert Stringer, Hector’s dad

Former Tring School pupil Hector had everything ahead of him – he was in a band, was surrounded by lots of friends and had a very supportive family.

However, his parents say he was a sensitive soul who struggled with certain issues – tending to overthink things so that problems became bigger than they really were. Mr Stringer, who works as a wealth adviser and lives in Chivery, near Tring, said: “Hector was an amazing person, and I know he would approve of what we’re doing.

“He always listened to other people’s problems and I think he over-empathised sometimes. Young people are not always aware they are becoming depressed and gradually isolating themselves, but by talking about how they are feeling and being honest with someone who is able to listen, it can make the world of difference.

“The youth health champion training is exactly the sort of initiative we need to be encouraging schools to adopt.

“If this stops just one other family from going through what we’ve been through, then all our efforts will have been worth it.”

“Young people have so many more pressures such as exam stress and social media to deal with in this day and age, but it’s about giving them the tools and teaching them how to deal with those additional stresses.”

It is expected that Tring School and other secondary schools in Dacorum will adopt the scheme in the future.

Zainab Sheriff and Sorcha Lane are youth health champions in Year 12 at The Priory School in Hitchin, where the pilot scheme was launched.

With fellow youth champions Hannah Fleetwood, Fatima Sheriff, Faiza Saif and Lexi Birks, Zainab and Sorcha will be sharing their messages by holding a health conference for primary school children, teaching plans for Year 5 and 6 pupils and assemblies to highlight the danger of binge drinking.

Colette Wyatt-Lowe, chair of Hertfordshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “The effect of mental health conditions on young people can’t be underestimated and the earlier we can identify the problem, the better.

“We are working closely with schools to promote positive messages and practice around mental health to help young people both inside and outside the classroom.”

Visit www.hectorshouse.org.uk, set up by Hector’s family, for help and guidance.