Today, 15 July, marks World Youth Skills Day.
The annual awareness campaign was launched back in 2014 by the United Nations as a way to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work, and entrepreneurship.
The theme for this year’s event, “Skilling teachers, trainers, and youth for a transformative future”, emphasises the pivotal role that educators play in preparing young people for the labour market. However, it is essential to acknowledge that educators also play a significant role in the overall wellbeing of students.
The importance of educators in suicide prevention
Educators are not just imparting knowledge; they are also often the first line of defence in identifying students who may be at risk of suicide. They have daily interactions with students and are in a unique position to observe changes in behaviour, emotional wellbeing, and academic performance.
By supporting students’ mental wellbeing and being vigilant in spotting signs of distress and/or suicide, educators have the power to transform future lives not only professionally, but emotionally.
PAPYRUS believes that safeguarding is everyone’s business and is not just the responsibility of directors of children’s services*, local children’s safeguarding boards, head teachers, governors and safeguarding leads. We believe that everyone can play a role in preventing young suicide. In school or college settings, this includes all teaching staff, admin, caretakers and catering staff and anyone else within the school community.
Through building relationships with students, educators and those within the education system can serve as trusted confidants, advocates, and referral sources for appropriate services for young people in crisis or in need of support.
In order for young people to thrive in life and excel in their futures, we all need to play a role in supporting them along the way.
Recognising suicidal invitations
- Behavioural changes: Pay attention to any significant shifts in behaviour, such as withdrawal from social activities, loss of interest in hobbies, or sudden mood swings. Students who are contemplating suicide may exhibit signs of hopelessness, irritability, or agitation. Similarly, students who are experiencing suicidal thoughts might display behaviour changes that appear positive and happy – however if this feels unusual for the individual, then this should also be considered as a potential suicidal invitation.
- Academic performance: Notice changes in academic performance, including a sudden decline in grades, lack of participation in class, or frequent absences. These can be indicative of emotional distress or mental health challenges.
- Social isolation: Keep an eye out for students who isolate themselves from peers or appear detached from their usual social circles. Feelings of loneliness and a sense of disconnection can contribute to suicidal ideation.
- Verbal cues: Listen carefully to students’ conversations and note any alarming statements, such as expressing thoughts of worthlessness, self-harm, or suicide. Take such statements seriously and report them to the appropriate professionals.
- Giving away their personal possessions: If you notice a student giving away their personal or prized items to other students on the school premises, this could also be a suicidal invitation. Sometimes, those who have made the decision to take their life will give away special belongings as a subtle way of saying goodbye.
- Substance abuse: If you notice a student appears to be abusing a substance, whether that be alcohol or drugs, this might indicate they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. While not every case of substance abuse suggests suicidal ideation, it could be used as a method for coping with overwhelming emotional pain or personal problems. We would advise educators to be attentive to sudden and significant changes in a student’s substance use patterns. It is crucial to approach the issue with empathy, understanding that substance abuse may be a symptom of deeper underlying emotional struggles.
- Cultivate open communication: Foster an environment where students feel comfortable discussing their concerns. Encourage them to seek help when needed and provide information on available resources, such as school counsellors, helpline services specific to their concerns, such as HOPELINE247, or other medical professionals.
- Training and professional development: Advocate for comprehensive training programs that equip educators with the skills and knowledge to recognise signs of distress and respond appropriately. This training should include mental health awareness, suicide prevention strategies, and referral procedures. PAPYRUS offers a number of training sessions and courses, ranging from 30 minutes to two-days, that equip participants with relevant knowledge and skills to address suicidal thoughts in others. To learn more about our training opportunities, visit: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/what-we-offer/
- Collaborate with mental health professionals: Establish partnerships with mental health experts and organisations to promote mental wellbeing within the school community. These collaborations can provide valuable insights, resources, and support to both educators and students.
- Encourage help-seeking: Educate students on the importance of seeking help and provide them with information about helplines, counselling services, and community resources. Promote the destigmatisation of mental health issues through awareness campaigns and classroom discussions.
As we mark World Youth Skills Day this year, we want to encourage educators and other professionals within the education system to not overlook the crucial role that you all play in the lives of young people. By equipping teachers and trainers with the necessary skills to identify signs of suicide, we empower them to support their students’ emotional wellbeing, ultimately helping shape a transformative future.
Together, we can save lives.
PAPYRUS has developed a guide to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention in schools and colleges, aimed specifically at teachers as well as school or college staff. It aims to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge necessary to support schoolchildren who may be having suicidal thoughts. Download our full Schools Guide here: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/schools-guide/