Taking steps to effectively communicate the news of a suicide can make a huge difference to the impact on the school community.
How to talk to students about a suspected suicide
Samaritans’ Step by Step service can work with you to consider the ways in which a school community may become aware of a suspected suicide, and how to respond to these to prevent rumour and misinformation and to consider the best actions to take in such cases.
Here are some key points to consider:
- Establish the facts before acting on news of a suspected suicide. Contact the police or the family as soon as you can to confirm the death and whether or not it is being treated as suicide. Be aware that it is likely to be many months before an inquest (or fatal accident inquiry in Scotland) is held, and that in many cases narrative verdicts may mean that the death is not officially recorded as suicide. It is important to note that there may be a great deal of speculation within the school community, and that schools often have to act on the basis that the death is being treated as a suspected suicide.
- Notify the school (or local authority) incident management team. It is important to act quickly, while at the same time preparing the school leadership team and administration for continuous enquiries once the death is made known.
They anticipated what we needed as were caught up in the hysteria of what had happened.
Breaking the news to young people
- Breaking the news to young people can be extremely difficult. Tell staff first and give them time to take in the news before addressing students. Make sure that staff know where and to whom they can turn for emotional support.
- Best practice suggests that, where possible, it is better to break the news to students in small groups or classes.
- When breaking the news it is important to be factual but to avoid excessive detail about the suicidal act itself. Rumours may be circulating and people may ask directly but try not to disclose details about the method used, whether there was a suicide note, or its contents.
- Consider preparing a statement for staff to use to ensure consistency across the school.
Support for students and staff
- Consider providing immediate counselling or emotional support to students and staff at the school. This may be arranged by the local authority.
- Try to strike a balance between sensitivity to those who are grieving and in shock, on the one hand, and the need to maintain the school routine, on the other. It may be helpful to set aside a room where students can go if they are upset.
The Step by Step team can help you to be confident in what to say when breaking the news. Get in touch to talk it through Freephone* 0808 168 2528 or email: [email protected]
They dealt with our shock and eased our pain.