Supporting students and parents after a pupil's suicide

 

We have put together some suggestions to help schools who have been affected by a suicidal death in their school community.  Remember anyone affected – including staff and parents – may need some extra support.

 

Why is death by suicide different?

  • The grief is often far more intense, and there is often a lack of ‘closure’
  • People bereaved may look for ‘answers’ and try to find reasons the person took their life
  • Some people may feel there is a stigma associated with death by suicide
  • The bereaved are more likely to become socially isolated
  • Sometimes, people may feel responsible in some way for the person’s death. For example, if a student took their life and were bullied at school
  • People may feel guilt associated with not anticipating or preventing the suicide

How can suicide bereavement affect children’s behaviour?

 

  • Heightened insecurities (e.g. fearful, clingy, tearful)
  • Acutely distressed / agitated
  • Anxiety about being left
  • “Acting out” – pushing boundaries
  • Acting in a “naughty” way, breaking known rules
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Aware of mortality and scared of death
  • Poor performance at school
  • ‘Attention-seeking’ behaviours
  • In shock
  • Regressive behaviour (eg. in eating/sleeping/toileting)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Traumatised
  • Excessive anger
  • Depressed

 

Helping your students understand what has happened

  • Don’t put a time limit on the process of grieving. Be available some time after the initial shock of the death
  • Sit quietly with your students and listen while he/she talks, cries or is silent
  • Talk about the person who has died (if you can) in a sensitive and positive way
  • Consider doing an activity with the students to remember/honour the person’s life, such as a memorial, or making a photo wall
  • Make opportunities for students to talk to each other, look at photos or share stories
  • Maintain a routine as much as possible. Routines can provide essential stability
  • Acknowledge and believe the young person’s pain and distress whatever the loss
  • Don’t panic in the absence or presence of strong emotional responses
  • Be consistent, honest and reassuring. Talking about suicide in the correct way normalises the situation
  • Be careful not to talk about the method a person may have taken their life
  • Be aware of the effect of special occasions that may be hard for your student, e.g. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, holidays
  • Be aware of your own grief and/or feeling of helplessness
  • Reassure the person that grief is a normal response to loss and there is no wrong or right way to grieve

Organisation that can help support schools, pupils and parents:

 

  • Samaritans - Samaritans has offered the Step by Step service to schools in the UK since 2010. They are available to offer practical support and advice to schools that have been affected by an attempted or suspected suicide. If you require immediate response call 0808 168 2528. Samaritans also produce guidance on how to prepare for and respond to suicide in schools and colleges - Help When We Need it Most
  • Cruse Bereavement Care - Advice on supporting pupils after a suicide in the school community: www.cruse.org.uk/for-schools/death-of-a-pupil