A Hitchin company says it has launched the largest ever mental health programme in UK secondary schools - free of charge - in a bid to tackle increasing teenage suicide rates, which have risen by 45 per cent over the past decade.

Gas engineer Richard Lucas, who lives in Hitchin, founded Govox Wellbeing in 2018, following the suicides of young men who played at Hitchin Rugby Club, where he is a vice president.

Govox is a wellbeing and mental health service that has now launched a national programme which will allow UK secondary schools to monitor the wellbeing of pupils and offer support.

Pupils who use Govox complete simple ‘check-ins’ on the Govox Wellbeing platform, where they answer a set of short questions that analyse their overall mental health, providing a ‘wellbeing score’ and flagging any concerning findings, in particular highlighting any ‘high risk’ pupils.

The programme will allow schools to assess pupils' overall mental wellbeing, ability to cope with their work and exams, and any other pressures or issues they may be facing. It provides ongoing monitoring to make struggling pupils visible to schools, offers personal wellbeing reports on each pupil, and signposts to relevant organisations if external support is required.

The programme aims to create an early warning system for at-risk children and increase the chances of successful intervention. The platform is not only aimed at saving lives but improving them, by monitoring and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all pupils using the platform.

The Comet: Pupils who use Govox complete simple ‘check-ins’ on the Govox Wellbeing platformPupils who use Govox complete simple ‘check-ins’ on the Govox Wellbeing platform (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

The Govox Wellbeing platform - developed with input from King's College London and NHSx - is already used by more than 40,000 people in 10 countries.

On a first-come-first-served basis, the platform is now being offered free-of-charge on an ongoing basis for up to 1,000 secondary state schools, who may not otherwise be able to afford it due to stretched budgets.

Richard said: "We truly want to make mental health support available to as many pupils in the UK as possible, and it makes me immensely proud that a relatively small Hitchin-based company is leading the way on this.

“We launched Govox four years ago for organisations such as businesses, universities and sports clubs, but we quickly realised it was perfectly placed to address mental health issues in schools.

"We began working with a number of independent schools who paid for Govox, but when we saw the worrying nationwide trends for teen suicide and worsening mental health, we knew it was time to do something bigger and do what we could to get Govox in as many UK schools as possible – at our own expense.

“Tight budgets should not stop pupils getting the help that is urgently needed.

"It is time to remove the stigma around talking about how we feel and move on from the ‘man up’ generation to the ‘speak up’ generation.

"I am urging every school in Hertfordshire to lead by example and sign up, so we can work together to ensure that any pupils who are struggling can be identified and get the help they need."

The scheme is backed by the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, who said: “This government is putting an extra £2.3 billion into mental health services in the next year and this, alongside entrepreneurs and passionate advocates of mental health like Richard Lucas, we will be able to massively improve and protect the mental health of younger generations in the UK today.”

The Comet: Priory School head Geraint EdwardsPriory School head Geraint Edwards (Image: JP Asher)

Geraint Edwards, headteacher at The Priory School in Hitchin and chair of Herts Secondary Schools Association, said: “There is no doubt the statistics paint a worrying picture of mental health in UK secondary schools. We are always looking for innovations to help us do the best by our pupils, and Govox adds an extra layer of safeguarding for their mental health.

"We, of course, have our own wellbeing procedures in place, but a key benefit Govox will offer us is an enhanced ability to identify pupils who may be struggling.

"We’re delighted to be among the first to sign up to the Govox schools programme and I’ll be encouraging my fellow headteachers across Herts to do the same.”

To sign up, or for more information, visit govox.com/schools-partnership.