We must include suicide and self-harm awareness in the national curriculum to protect children like my son

“Welcome to the club that nobody wants to belong to”. This is the group leader’s introduction to the support group I attend monthly for people affected by the suicide of their loved ones. I never really thought I would ever be in this club.

In a short week it went from a Christmas Eve with my beautiful child Harvey to a visit from the police who informed me that Harvey had died.

Death is the point for those who die – but as all who mourn suicide know, it is the beginning of a new eternity for those mourning that death. The phrase “My world collapsed” doesn’t even begin to describe where I and everyone else who loved her 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, we have all expressed shock at the number of us attending. I’ve watched the group grow each week. This intimate support group is so large that at times we can barely understand each other in circles, and I can tell you, it’s extremely hard to project your voice to 30+ people — especially when you’re talking about your loss and grief.

There are too many people affected by suicide because suicide rates in the UK are too high. It has remained unchanged for the last 20 years – for the whole too short life of my child.

Each month group members share their experiences of the broken mental health services in the UK; the lack of checks and balances which, had they existed, would have meant we were not part of that group at all.

The mental health crisis for the country’s young people has never been more acute – affecting all who experience it and having a particularly devastating impact on young minds.

Harvey’s death at the age of 20 resonated with so many because her identity intersects with so many demographics that face intense pressures of exclusion: young people, neurodiverse people, non-binary people, racially diverse people – individuals who have to navigate life daily in ways that so many of us don’t even need to consider.

The Harvey Parker Trust, which opens in late April with a concert at London’s Southbank Center with the support of some of the world’s best-known artists, was set up to highlight the need for greater visibility into the mental health challenges young people face.

Not only are we increasing the need for care, we are also building resources: we are introducing training for young people to provide small-group peer psychosocial care. We are doing this because the neediness of NHS services means those in need are dying every day because they don’t get the help they need in a timely manner.

We urgently and urgently need to improve suicide education, recognition, support and prevention in schools and learning environments.

When it comes to suicide, many of us fall into two camps. In a camp there are those who seldom or never think about suicide; who may respond to a headline about suicide with a touch 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 voted up or down depending on what’s going on around her – but is always there, lurking.

What we need is for these groups to shift focus. For those who rarely think of suicide, to be aware of it as background to others’ thoughts and to have the tools to help them if needed.

The government must accelerate a comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of people ending their lives. Improved and universal training for GPs and police to recognize and support people in crisis situations is just a start; mandatory mental health first responders or similar training in all workplaces are also required; Raising public awareness of how to recognize signs of a crisis and how to provide support is crucial.

This mentoring needs to start at school and involve all of us, not just the professionals. This is why the Trust will provide peer learning networks on mental health to ensure we are better at spotting any issues as they arise. This will hopefully allow those who have the dial 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 one another – and schools play an invaluable role in creating people who care. Government can help make this happen by ensuring that dialogue about suicide prevention is a central part of our nation’s public health strategy.

The Harvey Parker Trust will hold its opening concert on April 30th at the Southbank Centre, for which tickets are available Here

If you are desperate or having difficulty coping you can speak to the Samaritans confidentially on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website Find details of your nearest branch.

If you are a US resident and you or someone you know needs mental health help right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline 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 hotline near you.

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