When Dianne Youngson tried to take her own life at school, she was told to sit in a cupboard for the rest of the day and ‘get herself together’.
Having spent 20 years trying to come to terms with the incident – which she said her school treated like a ‘dirty secret’ – she has decided to speak out after reading about an incident at her former school.
Now 34, Dianne has teamed up with her local MSP in the hope of effecting change. And preventing other children going through the same experience as her.
Dianne, from Westhill, called the ‘continued underreporting’ of incidents involving violence and issues affecting children’s health in schools a ‘huge problem’.
Flashbacks and counselling 20 years later
She attempted to take her own life on school grounds as a 14-year-old, and still has flashbacks and receives counselling two decades later.
It was when she read about an incident at Waid Academy – her former school – that she decided to speak out.
A retired police officer blasted the school for not reporting an assault to police, saying the victim involved ‘could have died’.
Dianne is currently working on a parliamentary petition with Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett, with a view to addressing the underreporting of incidents in schools.
Under-reporting of incidents in schools: ‘After 20 years, here we are still talking about these things’
“The Courier article caught my eye because it was Waid Academy that I went to,” said Dianne.
“I didn’t think what happened to me could possibly happen now, in an age when mental health is talked about so much.
“My incident was 20 years ago, yet here we are still talking about these things.”
Speaking about her own incident at school, she said: “After becoming evidently unwell another pupil notified staff, yet no medical attention whatsoever was called upon.
“Instead, they made the decision to put me in the back of my guidance teacher’s classroom cupboard. I was to sit there while they ‘monitored’ me until the end of the day, which was several hours.
“It was only at the end of the school day that I was taken to hospital, extremely unwell by this point. The doctors could not understand the time delay in getting me medical attention.”
School treated suicide attempt like ‘a dirty secret’
She added: “After being discharged from hospital I was called into a school meeting.
“I was told, ‘While we cannot officially exclude you, we feel you need to take a few days off to get yourself together.’
“And so I went home, aged 14, deeply suicidal and lacking any kind of support.
“I was told not to speak of what happened like it was some dirty secret.
“They had a duty of care and completely failed.
“I get that teachers have a lot to deal with.
“When you take on a career as a teacher you don’t want to have to deal with traumatic incidents that come up probably weekly in schools. I completely understand that.
“But schools do have a duty of care and they should be reporting these incidents, because that’s when they’ll be able to get the help to deal with them.”
‘Fear of reporting incidents is an overplayed excuse’
Dianne was left so disheartened by her experience that she chose to leave school early, after completing 5th year. She said she attended ‘just enough’ school that year to leave with some Highers.
At the age of 26, after having children, Dianne contacted education officials and questioned why no medical help had been sought that day.
She said she was given ‘pitiful’ excuses, which left her feeling ‘hugely let down’.
“I may have stayed on longer at school had I felt safe. I lost all trust and didn’t want to be there anymore.
“The narrative of what actually happens in schools is being whitewashed to protect their reputation.
“Fear of reporting incidents is an overplayed excuse, and doesn’t excuse what I feel is negligence.”
Local MSP to raise issue with cabinet secretary Jenny Gilruth
Alexander Burnett MSP said: “Dianne deserves a great deal of credit for opening up about her experiences as a young person in the Scottish education system, which undoubtedly failed her.
“Although a number of years have passed, it’s obvious the pain of reliving those experiences is just as keenly felt.
“And tempting as it may be for politicians to pretend bullying has gone away — especially the kind that goes unheard or ignored — not much has changed.
“Beyond an apology for the anguish Dianne endured, on her own, I will be asking the minister [for education, Jenny Gilruth] just what the Scottish Government is doing to protect today’s pupils from suffering in silence.”
Fife Council’s head of education Shelagh McLean said the authority couldn’t comment on individual cases, but that the welfare of those in schools is its priority.
“Our focus on universal, early intervention and preventative approaches means that most young people can enjoy positive emotional wellbeing and flourish.
“Any young person who is struggling, for any reason, should let a member of the school staff know. They will be listened to and supported.
“We will always work to make sure our young people have a positive experience at school.”