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Annessa Rebair: Why suicide prevention must be part of pre-registration nurse education 

Senior lecturer in mental health Annessa Rebair lost her brother to suicide when he was 21. She explains why it is vital that students across all fields of nursing learn about suicide awareness and prevention as part of their training

Senior lecturer in mental health Annessa Rebair lost her brother to suicide when he was 21. She explains why it is vital that students across all fields of nursing learn about suicide awareness and prevention as part of their training


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As a young nursing student, the knowledge that I had a duty of care to those in suicidal distress was frightening. Even with 20 years of nursing experience, I am still slightly anxious when I am with someone who is experiencing suicidal distress.

I have learned that suicide is hidden, often regarded as a secret by those harbouring pain, and that clues can be incredibly subtle, passing loved ones by. This is not an uncommon story told by those who have lost someone to suicide. I am one of those people. My brother was 21 when he took his life.

Bigger story

Around 1,600 young people aged between ten and 34 take their life each year. Tragically, these statistics represent a small part of a much bigger story, with the actual number of young people who die by suicide thought to be much higher.

In 2015, a survey by the RCN found that nurses felt ill-prepared to ask about suicide, unsupported and worried about confidentiality and stigma. Personal experiences also mitigated against asking about or exploring suicide, with a significant number of respondents saying they had never received training in suicide awareness or prevention.

Awareness and prevention

This followed a motion passed at RCN Congress the previous year that challenged higher education institutions to include suicide awareness and prevention across all fields of nursing in pre-registration nurse education. Draft standards produced last year by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) echoed this.

Papyrus, the young suicide prevention charity, is a passionate supporter of suicide prevention competencies remaining in the final NMC pre-registration nurse education standards, due out later this year.

Educating nurses on this subject will help raise awareness in the nursing community, increase nurses’ confidence and encourage conversations around suicide, and reduce stigma so people can seek help more readily.

How to help

So what can nurses do to help?

  • Talk and encourage sharing. For example: ‘It sounds as if things are incredibly difficult right now, can you tell me a little more about what’s happening for you?
  • Ask about suicide. Conversation starters could include: ‘Sometimes when people feel like you have described, they think about suicide. Is it like this for you?’
  • Listen to what the person is saying. Showing you care is vital.
  • Keep them safe. Agree next steps and a safety plan. What would keep them safe for the next hour, the next 24 hours?

Annessa Rebair is senior lecturer in mental health at Northumbria University and trustee of national charity Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide

 

 

More information 

  • Click here to learn more about the work of Papyrus, including the charity's HOPELineUK confidential support and advice service

 

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