Responding to a suspected suicide in schools and colleges

Samaritans' booklet 'Help When We Needed it Most' is a resource to help schools to plan and deliver an effective response is available online. This introduction leads to the rest of the guidance, or you can download the entire booklet for free.

Nobody likes to think about a death in school. Yet suicide is a leading cause of death for young people in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Sadly it is always a possibility that a student, parent or member of staff might choose to take their own life.

However upsetting this must be, schools and colleges play an important role in reducing the likelihood of imitational behaviour and helping recovery by preparing a response thoroughly and responding appropriately to a suspected suicide if the worst should ever happen.

Contact our Step by Step service to find out more about how we can support you in your response planning.

Samaritans has offered the Step by Step service to schools in the UK since 2010. We are available to offer practical support and advice to schools that have been affected by an attempted or suspected suicide.


Reducing the Risk of Further Suicide

Samaritans offers the Step by Step service in order to support the school community, and reduce the risk of further suicide. Recent research on ‘imitational’ suicides and suicide ‘contagion ’ suggest that, in young people especially, exposure to suicide can lead to increased risk of suicidal thoughts. A Canadian study found that the suicide of a schoolmate increased the risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts among young people aged 12-17 years (especially 12-13 year olds) for up to two years following the suicide, and had an impact that was even greater than the suicide of a family member.

Our service is designed to lessen the risk of further suicide by assisting school communities to handle the situation sensitively and responsibly, while returning to normal routines as quickly as possible. This guidance forms part of Samaritans’ Step by Step service to schools, which offers specially trained volunteers who can assist school leadership teams with their suspected suicide response.


How can Step by Step help?

As described in a recent evaluation of our service, ‘Step by Step is there to reassure senior leadership teams that what they are doing is right for the school and advise them on what they feel works best throughout the incredibly difficult first few weeks.’

Get in touch with our Step by Step service ( or Freephone* 0808 168 2528 and we will do all we can to help you deal with a situation you may never have faced before.

We can also assist with raising awareness of emotional health among young people, by offering talks in schools.


Where else can you get support?

Your local authority and other organisations may also be able to provide emotional support and advice on specific issues.

Samaritans is also available round the clock, every day of the year by phone, email, text, letter or face-to-face visits in the branch for anyone who might be struggling to cope.


I cannot thank Samaritans enough and the Step by Step team, the service is utterly brilliant and they deal with one of the most devastating things that can happen to a school - Head teacher

Next Page: Creating a response plan

*Calls are free from landlines and some mobile providers.

1 Swanson, S. A., & Colman, I. (2013). Association between exposure to suicide and suicidality outcomes in youth. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’Association Medicale Canadienne. Date of Electronic Publication: 27 May 2013.

2 Sherbert Research (2013). Full report: Step by Step Evaluation.