A new study reveals that creating a safe space for potentially suicidal children and young people to openly and honestly discuss their feelings is just one of three key factors identified as helping to prevent youth suicide.
Ensuring there are clear protocols for understanding callers’ suicide risk and securing the right ‘joined up’ safeguarding and support services are the other key factors that are essential for helpline staff to help prevent young people from taking their own lives.
Frontline staff reveal that creating a safe space makes them more able to explore the reasons leading a young person to consider suicide. Building such a holistic picture helps them to identify the level of suicide risk.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham interviewed professionals from three UK-based helplines and online counselling services.
Dr Maria Michail, associate professor in the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham, commented: ‘Helplines are a common way for young people with suicidal experiences to seek help, but it is important to understand how helpline staff and volunteers identify, assess, and manage suicide risk among young people.’
‘Ensuring a good relationship and open dialogue with young people is key in establishing the risk of suicide. Frontline staff are well placed to assess and respond to suicide risk, but we must understand their challenges when responding to suicidal young people.’
‘Extra support is needed to ensure effective safeguarding, and clear guidelines must be in place regarding how each helpline handles suicide risk and what this means for frontline staff.’
Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 19. UK-based evidence suggests that during the Covid pandemic, there was an increase in suicidal thoughts and self-harm, a significant risk factor for suicide.
Young people with suicidal experiences often do not access mental health services or are unwilling to seek professional help.
Researchers note that having a better-shared understanding of the current practice and challenges facing helplines could help to identify examples of good practice and opportunities for improvement through, for example, providing tailored training and/or resources.
The study builds on a partnership established in September 2020 between the University of Birmingham and NSPCC to increase knowledge and awareness of the helpline’s different approaches to responding to child suicide risk. NSPCC funded a research programme that enabled experts to explore the best way to provide effective help and support to children.
NSPCC-run childline director Shaun Friel said: ‘Helplines provide crucial support to children and young people when they need it most. To offer the best help, helplines need to share best practices and learn from one another.’
‘We are pleased to see these findings published and hope they will support other organisations providing such vital support to children.’