This blog post was written by PAPYRUS volunteer, Jacquie Shanahan, to discuss her journey to becoming a volunteer with the charity. To find out more about becoming a volunteer at PAPYRUS, visit the link at the end of this blog.


My name is Jacquie Shanahan, and I am a champion volunteer at PAPYRUS because I am keen to support the charity’s aims in practical ways. In particular, I hope to help young people who experience suicidal thoughts, or are worried about friends and relatives. In my case, volunteering usually takes place in educational settings.

When I’m at a stand at a wellbeing event for PAPYRUS, it’s not uncommon for a student to ask for a PAPYRUS card to give to a friend. Sometimes young people don’t seek help because they don’t want to upset people they love, or perhaps because they feel they should be coping. Talking to a PAPYRUS adviser on the phone or by text is a good way to share troubling thoughts and work out a plan to stay safe.

As a parent, I wish I’d known about PAPYRUS sooner.

My son, Rory, had struggled with anxiety and depression during his time at university. After taking a year out to try to deal with these issues through therapy, he felt able to return for his final semester. However, for us, we felt there was no transitional support to help bridge the gap in his studies. His peer group had moved on and with no back-up he began to disengage. No one at university seemed to notice something was wrong. The reasons for suicide are complex, but it’s likely he lost hope and confidence that he could complete his studies and he made the decision to take his own life.

Losing Rory was a huge shock for our family and for his friends. For a long time, I felt a failure as a mum and devastated I hadn’t done more to rescue him, even though he was many miles away at university. His pain passed directly into us. It doesn’t go away.

I also felt a terrible urgency to try to change things, especially after I discovered that those affected by suicide were more at risk of it themselves. I thought of the ripple effect across his young flatmates and friends, on our family. We held an event to celebrate Rory’s life, inviting everyone he knew at university – few of whom we knew – to bring them together. They told us anecdotes about him, played his favourite music, ate his favourite pizzas and craft beer. They even held a debate in his honour, as he was public debates officer. It was on Artificial Intelligence, a topic he was interested in as a systems engineer.

We encouraged them to continue talking to each other, gave details of specific mental health support services and helplines and we kept in touch by regularly sharing photos and stories.

Afterwards, we drove home thinking how wonderful his friends were, how poignant that Rory couldn’t see and hear how much they thought of him. Perhaps by having the chance to talk about Rory together it would help them cope and keep the conversation going about how Rory’s death had affected them.

It’s now five years on since Rory died and, in that time, I’ve discovered many other families who have tragically lost students to suicide. These families eventually formed The Learn Network, a group of parents and siblings who campaign for a legal duty of care for students in universities, on a par with other learning institutions and workplaces.

Although there is fantastic evidence-based best practice developed by PAPYRUS with Universities UK, most institutions are not using it and are not obliged to. Having heard at first hand so many instances where poor or unclear processes have failed students, I’m personally convinced a statutory duty of care would accelerate good practice at 100% of universities so that Higher Education students have clarity and parity with adults in other settings.

In April, we handed over a petition signed by over 128,000 people to Downing Street. It was a very emotional moment, feeling the combined strength and energy of all these persistent people who want to see change because of their lived experience. The government has now agreed to debate this issue in parliament on 5 June, which is a huge step for us at The Learn Network.

Although it won’t help my son Rory or the other young students lost to suicide, there are reasons to be hopeful about the direction of travel. Some universities are putting good, evidence-based practice in place. I look forward to all universities and higher education institutions playing a full part in preventing future student deaths.


If you’re interested in volunteering for PAPYRUS, you can find out about our volunteering opportunities by clicking here – we look forward to hearing from you.
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