Suicide doesn’t discriminate. There is no ‘typical’ profile of a lost life. Each death reverberates, leaving loved ones’ lives and whole communities changed forever.
Change is imperative and is being driven by national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide.
Tireless campaigning for change
PAPYRUS (Parents’ Association for the Prevention of Young Suicide) was founded 22 years ago by Jean Kerr, a Lancashire mother who lost her son to suicide. Today, the charity works tirelessly to reduce the number of young people dying by suicide by shattering the stigma that surrounds it and creating a cross-country network of communities that have the suicide awareness and skills to take positive action.
“Research shows that with appropriate early intervention and support, many young suicides can be prevented,” says Hazel Russell, Papyrus’s Head of Fundraising. “Suicidal people are often too afraid to share their feelings. Too often people are scared they’ll say the wrong thing to a suicidal person. It is eradicating both the stigma and fear that shapes PAPYRUS’s work.”
Supporting young people, educating communities
HOPELINEUK (0800 068 4141) is the charity’s dedicated helpline – manned by fully trained staff providing confidential support and advice to young people or anyone worried about a young person.
PAPYRUS also engages communities and volunteers in suicide prevention projects and delivering training programmes to individuals and groups – arming everyone from local councils and healthcare professionals to school staff with suicide prevention skills.
“Yes, we are a young person’s charity,” explains Hazel, “and we have taken massive steps in encouraging young people to talk about their feelings, but removing stigma is just as important. There is no point is a young person confiding in someone if that person doesn’t know what to say or how to respond. We are here to educate everyone, because everyone has a duty of care to look after our young people and keep them safe.”
Additionally, the charity is a long-standing member of the government advisory groups in England and Wales on suicide prevention matters, helping shape national social policy and make a significant contribution to the local and regional implementation of national suicide prevention strategies.
To highlight their mission, PAPYRUS creates brave, sometimes shocking, campaigns which, once witnessed, are impossible to forget.
Earlier this year, the charity paved the steps of St George’s Plateau in Liverpool with 226 pairs of shoes – each pair representing a child lost to suicide in 2017.
“There were no banners, no announcements… just the shoes,” remembers Hazel of the stop-you-in-your-tracks Lost Childhoods campaign, “An older lady came up to us and said, ‘they shouldn’t be there!’ We paused. She continued, ‘they shouldn’t be there, they should be running up and down those steps’… It was incredibly poignant, as was the moment a young girl came to look at the shoes, she was wearing one of our wristbands. She explained how her nan had given her it after she’d suffered with mental health issues, she’d told her granddaughter that it would ‘keep her safe’. The wristband had our helpline number on it.”
Another 2018 campaign, entitled Bedtime Stories, focussed on cyber bullying. It included a short film showing a mother reading to her young daughter at bedtime. But this is no tale of castles and happy ever afters but social media taunts that leave you speechless.
“40% of the calls we receive from children and young people aged 11-18 involve issues around online bullying,” says Hazel. “For many, it can seem like there is no escape, that the bullying will never stop or go away, and that everyone would be ‘better off’ without them.”
PAPYRUS doesn’t receive any government funding and relies on generous donations from its many supporters. From people who donate a couple of pounds out of their benefits, to big-name corporate sponsorship – the support elsewhere for PAPYRUS is reassuringly strong, and each of these donations valued equally.
In September, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, PAPYRUS took part in a BBC Radio 4 Charity Appeal. Andy Airey, a supporter bereaved by suicide, went on air to share his daughter Sophie’s story. The appeal so far has raised nearly £10,000.
Miss England 2018/19, Alisha Cowie, is now an official Ambassador for the charity, having herself having lost a friend to suicide and been the victim of bullying. Together with other finalists in the competition, she raised over £20k for PAPYRUS.
“You look at Alicia and think, she’s beautiful, what worries could she have?” says Hazel, “but that’s exactly our point. That’s exactly how people shouldn’t think. Nobody is immune to bullying, isolation and suicidal thoughts. We just need more people like her to stand up and speak out.”
Throughout 2018/19, PAPYRUS has delivered training across the UK to create over 500 life-assisting caregivers and equipped young people and their communities with the tools they need to stay safe from suicide. During this same period, and compared with 2017/18, there has been an 80% increase in calls to HOPELINEUK.
Whilst Hazel is delighted with this positive change, she says there is still so much work to do:
“The official suicide statistics released this month show that the rate of suicide is increasing, and we need to act. We must remember that suicide was only decriminalised in 1961 and, unfortunately, that stigma around a suicide verdict still exists. People still find it so hard to talk about.”
People can attend a training course (including a FREE 30-minute session), volunteer, host a talk/fundraising event.
No matter how you decide to get involved, every second you spend, every £1 you raise, matters.
“Seriously,” says Hazel, “a fiver can save a life. It really can.”
Are you, or is a young person you know, not coping with life? For confidential suicide prevention advice, call 0800 068 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Words by: Lisa Symonds