Precious Jeffers, Community Outreach Manager at Samaritans, highlights the charity’s work with suicide prevention in light of this year’s World Mental Health Day focus of the same nature
Samaritans is pleased to be guest posting for SSAT in time for World Mental Health Awareness (MHA) Day on 10 October. The focus of this year is suicide prevention, so this is an excellent time to share knowledge about who Samaritans are, how we can be contacted, and most importantly, how we can work with schools to improve understanding of emotional health of the whole school community.
Samaritans is a universal service. Every person who is part of the school community is welcome to contact Samaritans for emotional support. Samaritans provides a unique space, in confidence, for people to share what’s on their mind, be they a teacher, support staff member, student, parent or carer. We provide 24/7 access, with multiple ways for people to contact us. Most commonly used is our freephone number, 116 123, but people can also text us: 07725 90 90 90, email us: email@example.com, or see us face-to-face at a local branch. To find the nearest to you, visit www.samaritans.org/branches, or write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK Chris, PO Box 90 90 Stirling FK8 2SA
Samaritans recognises that suicide is a leading cause of death for children and young people between 10 and 19 years of age*, and that according to NHS Digital, 1 in 9 5-15-year-olds have a mental health disorder. We take seriously the support we can offer to children and young people, and their need to be really listened to. In fact, although Samaritans is often thought of as a suicide crisis line for adults, the impetus for its establishment was the death of a fourteen-year-old school girl. She began to menstruate, and not knowing what this was and fearing it meant she may have a disease, she ended her life. Chad Varah, the founder of Samaritans, who was then the curate in attendance at her funeral, felt she had ‘changed [his] life forever’. In 1953, he began what he thought of as a ‘999 for the suicidal’. He wanted to create a space for people to be able to talk without feeling judged by the listener.
Samaritans have used their expertise in emotional support and active listening to develop services and materials specifically to support schools.
Samaritans offers the following services to schools, colleges and other establishments and organisations working with young people:
Talks and workshops raising awareness of Samaritans and emotional health, they also provide opportunities for participants to consider the value of talking and listening, and to practise these skills. One student reflected on their take-away from the experience, saying: “I learned to always speak to someone and don’t hold your feelings in.” Another student commented: “Knowing help is there can change someone’s life.”
Deal (Developing Emotional Awareness and Listening) is a set of web-based teaching resources containing lesson plans, audiovisual resources, teachers’ notes and staff training materials. It is designed for use with secondary-aged students.
Step by Step is a Samaritans ‘post-vention’ service. offering practical support and guidance to schools, colleges and other educational establishments and youth settings that may have had the difficult experience of a suspected or attempted suicide in the school. One headteacher felt the impacts of Step by Step profoundly, stating: “I cannot thank Samaritans and the Step by Step team enough, the service is utterly brilliant and they deal with one of the most devastating things that can happen to a school”.
Working with your branch
There are 201 Samaritans branches across the UK, with around 20,000 volunteers involved. This incredible network of volunteer power allows us to provide constant support to anyone who needs it.
Samaritans branches are keen to get out and work with schools to provide the services described where possible. Here are a few tips to make the most of your school’s relationship with a local branch:
- Contact branches as early as possible in your planning for Samaritans involvement. Most branches are run by volunteers alone. They need plenty of time to check availability of volunteers trained in delivering work in schools.
- Prepare teachers, letting them know of the need for their attention and involvement in the session. The best emotional health workshops are those that have the active participation of students and The least satisfactory are those in which staff are physically present but use the session to quietly complete non-related tasks. (We all know the challenge of finding time to answer emails and prep for future tasks!)
- Consider how to embed learning across the academic year and within the whole school community. For example, are there opportunities for students to use listening skills learnt in different roles within the school or during specific extracurricular activities? Or even opportunities for parents and carers during school fetes or community days to find out what students have been learning about in this context.
For more information about Samaritans in schools, click here.
*ONS Avoidable mortality in the UK, Children & Young People 2017, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/datasets/avoidablemortalityintheukchildrenandyoungpeople