Death through suicide can be difficult for everyone to understand and there are several issues that make it more complex. Understanding “why” a person has taken their own life can be extremely challenging and adults, children and young people can all feel that maybe it was their fault in some way, or that they should have been able to stop it happening. Also, the sudden nature of the death means there is no opportunity to say goodbye. These aspects can complicate our response and prevent us from being as open with pupils as we would wish.
While it may not always be possible to immediately ascertain all of the details about the death, confirming as much information as possible is important because speculation and rumours can exacerbate emotional upheaval within the school. If the cause of death has not been confirmed to be suicide, if there is an ongoing investigation, or if the family does not want the cause of death disclosed, it can be difficult for a school to determine how to proceed.
The Samaritans provide a “Step by step Postvention” service which can provide practical support and guidance to schools in the aftermath of a suicide or attempted suicide of a pupil. You can contact them by telephone – 0808 168 2528 or see their website - www.samaritans.org.
Things to help:
- Keep things as normal as you can – stick to normal routines and activities.
- Give pupils a narrative for what has happened – help them to make sense of what has happened. Pupils will benefit from having an honest explanation of what has happened, at a level appropriate for their age and understanding. It may be that the parents/carers need some support to do this.
- Encourage pupils to ask questions and give them honest answers at an appropriate level of detail. You don’t need to give all the information at once and you can always build in further detail later.
- Younger children in particular may need to ask questions repeatedly and to be given honest and consistent responses.
- Allow opportunities for the pupils to talk about what has happened if they wish to but do not push them to.
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