Voices: We need to put suicide and self-harm awareness on the National Curriculum to protect kids like my son
“Welcome to the club that no one wants to belong to”. This is the introduction shared by the group facilitator of the support group I attend monthly, for people affected by the suicide of their loved ones. I never truly believed that I’d ever be in this club.
In the space of a short week, I went from being with my beautiful child Harvey on our family’s Christmas night out, to a visit by the police to tell me Harvey had died.
Death is the full stop for those who die – but as all who grieve suicides know, it’s the start of a new forever for those who mourn that death. The phrase “my world fell apart” doesn’t come close to describing where I, and all others who loved them, are now a year later.
This support group is my lifeline. It is run by volunteers, with space donated by a church.
Even as we sit there in our various states of grief, all of us have expressed shock about the number of us attending. I’ve watched as each week the group has grown. Such is the size of this intimate support group that at times we can barely hear each other across the circle, and I can tell you, it’s extremely hard to project one’s voice for 30-plus people to hear – especially when you’re talking about your loss and your grief.
There are too many people affected by suicide, because the UK’s suicide rates are too high. It’s remained unchanged for the last 20 years – for all of my child’s too-short life.
Each month group members share experiences of the UK’s broken mental health services; of the absence of checks and balances which – had they been in place – might have resulted in us not being in this group at all.
The mental health crisis for the nation’s young people has never been so acute – it affects all who experience it and has a devastating impact on young minds in particular.
Harvey’s death at the age of 20 has resonated with so many because their identity intersected with so many demographic groups who experience the intense pressures of marginalisation: young people, neurodiverse people, non-binary people, ethnically diverse people – individuals who are having to navigate life daily in ways so many of us don’t even have to consider.
The Harvey Parker Trust, which launches with a concert in London’s Southbank centre at the end of April with the support of some of the world’s best-known performers, has been created to spotlight the need for greater visibility of the mental health challenges that young people face.
Not only are we amplifying the need for care, but we’re also building resources: we’re rolling out training for young people to provide small-group peer support mental health care. We’re doing this because the weight of need on NHS services means that those in need are dying every day, due to the fact that they are not receiving the help they need in time.
We urgently, desperately need to improve training, recognition, support and prevention of suicide in schools and learning environments.
When it comes to suicide many of us fall into two camps. In one camp are those who rarely if ever think about suicide at all; who might respond to a headline about suicide with a moue of sympathy before moving on to the next news item. Then there are others for whom the soundtrack of suicidal thoughts is like background music. It gets dialled up or down depending on what’s going on around them – but is always there, lurking.
What we need is for those groups to swap focus. For those who rarely think about suicide to be conscious of it as a background to others’ thoughts, and to have the tools to help them if needed.
The government needs to fast-track a comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of people who are ending their lives. Improved and universal training for GPs and the police about recognising and supporting someone in crisis is only a starting point; mandatory mental health first aiders or similar training in all workplaces is also needed; public awareness-raising on how to recognise signs of crisis and provide support is vital.
This care needs to begin in school, and involve all of us, not just the professionals. This is why the Trust will provide peer-learning mental health networks to ensure that all of us become better at seeing issues as they arise. This will hopefully allow those for whom the dial is turned up too loud to know and understand that they belong with us, and that life is worth living.
We have a duty of care to each other – and schools play an invaluable part in creating humans who care. The government can help make that happen by ensuring that dialogues about suicide prevention are a core part of our nation’s wellbeing strategy.
The Harvey Parker Trust will hold its launch concert at Southbank Centre on 30 April, tickets for which are available here
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.