A coalition of charities has launched a pioneering guide for Jewish schools on how to cope in the event of a suicide or sudden death.
It recommends that schools should set up an emergency response team of five to six people including the headteacher who would be able to deal with a tragic event should it occur.
Some 6,500 people take their lives across the UK every year and tens of thousands attempt suicide.
While there are no figures available for the Jewish community, the JC is aware that at least four Jewish schoolchildren are believed to have taken their lives within the past three years.
'Coping After Suicide and Sudden Traumatic Death: A Guide for Schools' was launched on Tuesday at the annual conference for the headteachers of Jewish schools organised by Pajes, the Jewish Leadership Council’s schools’ network.
As well as coping with the aftermath of the traumatic death of a pupil – or a staff member – the guidance also calls for “postvention”, initiatives to help prevent suicide by reducing the taboo around talking about suicidal feelings and encouraging people to seek help.
Welcoming this “essential guidance,” Rabbi David Meyer, executive director of Pajes, said, “We are very fortunate that the schools in our community not only achieve high academic standards but also show genuine concern and care for all the students.
However, there are times where the expectations on school leaders are beyond their levels of expertise.”
The booklet was produced by the Emergency Response Initiative Consortium, which consists of mental health charity Jami, the Community Security Trust, Norwood, the Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service and Grief Encounter in partnership with Pajes.
It says that school counsellors need to be equipped to handle pupils’ grief and schools should set aside “support rooms” for both students and staff.
A condolence book can be created for pupils to express their feelings.
“Young people can have many different and sometimes contradictory feelings about a death by suicide including shock, confusion, anger, aggression, withdrawal, fear, guilt, denial, blame, betrayal, abandonment, hurt and sadness,” it says.
“Try and support them as best you can. You don’t have to be a therapist to do this. Just listening to their thoughts and acknowledging their feelings is a great help. It also offers practical advice on how best to inform pupils and parents, saying that students should be told in “small groups” rather than a large assembly.
“Whole school assemblies are not appropriate for notifying students of a death by suicide because student reactions are hard to manage in this environment,” it says.
It also says schools should be particularly aware of vulnerable pupils – or staff, governors or parents who may be deeply affected because of their “ own family history of suicide, or because the individuals have depression, anxiety and other mental health issues”.
Noting that people now to turn to social media for information, it says schools can “dispel rumour” through their communications.
Noting too that suicide can be “a preventable death”, it mentions the Youth Mental Health First Aid course that Jami can run for schools.