Saving lives through the power of education

By Daniel Howard on

As the country struggles in the midst of a second lockdown, we all know too well the devastating impact the situation has had on the mental health of the nation. Whilst recent announcements on the progress of a vaccine signify that we could be one step closer to normality, it’s clear that the long-term mental health impact of lockdown will be with us for years to come.

The Centre for Mental Health has worked with NHS colleagues to build a model, based on the best available evidence, which predicts up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis; 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18.

One of the most concerning points from this research is the strong relationship between poor mental health and an increased risk of suicide.

It’s a sobering fact that last year we lost 5,691 people in England and Wales to suicide. However, when we look at the ripple effect of suicide, we can see it’s not just 5,691 lives lost; it’s thousands of bereaved families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances whose lives are left shattered. Shattered by something which could have been prevented, if only people had the skills and knowledge to know how.

That’s where education comes in

The education sector can play a vital role in helping to reduce the number of lives lost needlessly to suicide. At NCFE, in line with our core purpose to ‘promote and advance learning’, we’re committed to improving mental health outcomes. 

Working together with mental health training experts, Big Dog Little Dog (BDLD), we recently launched two qualifications in suicide awareness and reduction, both of which are eligible for funding from the ESFA.

Developed in collaboration with suicide survivors, these qualifications are the first of their kind to be regulated in the UK and we believe they have the potential to be lifesaving.

Despite affecting thousands of individuals each year, suicide is still a word that is rarely spoken; it’s often stigmatised and unfortunately many people do not know how to broach the subject. These qualifications have been carefully designed to tackle this issue and provide learners with the practical skills to face difficult conversations around mental health and suicide with confidence and positivity.

Throughout the course content, we help individuals understand why as many as 1 in 5 people experience suicidal thoughts. Learners will consider suicide risk and level of intent and learn how to support individuals at risk, including how to signpost them to professional services where appropriate. Furthermore, the Level 3 qualification uniquely provides a structure to base conversations on with those who are at risk. The qualifications are very short and flexible so that colleges can deliver in a range of ways – for both your learners as well as colleagues.

Maximising reach and impact

To maximise the reach and impact of the qualifications, we’ve teamed up with digital content creators, LearnBox, to develop an online version of the Level 2 Award in Suicide Awareness, so that it can be delivered and assessed completely remotely.

As part of our pledge to make a difference, we’ll also be working with a business psychologist from AELP to measure the impact of the qualifications within key demographics, in order to evaluate the success of the qualifications.

Supporting International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Saturday 21 November is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a day when people affected by suicide loss can come together for support and comfort. Let’s use this awareness day as an opportunity to start conversations around suicide, together we can make a difference.

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Daniel Howard is the Operations Director - Learning and Work at NCFE