Teachers lack confidence to support suicidal pupils

Half of teachers feel ill-equipped to help children who say they are having suicidal thoughts, YouGov poll reveals

Adi Bloom

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Only half of teachers would feel confident supporting pupils who confided in them that they were feeling suicidal, according to a new survey.

This is despite the fact that teaching staff regularly hear from teenagers who are considering killing themselves.

In the poll of 804 teachers, conducted by YouGov on behalf of teen-suicide charity Papyrus, more than one in 10 – 11 per cent – of teachers said that they heard at least once a term from pupils who were having suicidal thoughts.

But only 53 per cent said that they felt confident they could support those pupils. A third of teachers  – 34 per cent – said that they were worried they would simply make the situation worse.

'Left to carry the can'

One respondent said: “I would feel responsible under safeguarding, and possibly left to carry the can.”

Others commented that they did not have the time or the qualifications to help, even if they wanted to.

In fact, 47 per cent said that they were not sufficiently trained to support a suicidal student. More than one in five – 22 per cent – said that they would not know the right thing to say.

Others feared that the school would disapprove of any action they took.

One teacher said: “School discourages personal interactions.”

Another added: “There are problems getting senior teachers to take notice."

Talking about suicide prevention

Fifteen per cent of respondents said that their school did not have a policy or procedure for dealing with suicidal pupils. And 13 per cent worried that they would not have permission to advise a suicidal pupil.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of Papyrus, said: “We don’t talk about suicide in schoolchildren, and there is a lack of awareness of the number of children who are desperate for help. While there have been moves to prioritise the mental wellbeing of children in schools, far fewer people are talking about suicide prevention.”

The charity is launching a new suicide-prevention guide for teachers and school staff. Building Suicide-Safer Schools and Colleges, including guidance on the correct language to use, information on how to develop a suicide-prevention policy, and advice on how to identify and help a suicidal pupil.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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