Creating a suicide awareness campaign aimed and young people through their own voices. This case study was done jointly with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and forms part of our suicide prevention resource.
You Are Not Alone was a suicide awareness campaign developed by young people aged between 11 to 20 years old. It included creating a soundscape of positive messages to reach out to vulnerable people played at locations across Hull, alongside a local co-produced website providing information and advice. The project was part of HeadStart Hull, an asset based mental health and resilience programme which works on prevention and early intervention and offers a range of services and interventions for supporting young people's emotional health and well-being.
We often co-produce campaigns with a group of volunteers aged between 11 to 20 years old on issues which matter to them, such as anti-bullying and the transition to secondary school. They identified the idea of a campaign to reduce suicide and raise awareness, because they felt that most campaigns around suicide concentrate on what adults are saying. They felt it was important to have a campaign which focused on young people – not just those at risk but those who are impacted by suicide. Some of the group have personal experience of suicide, either directly in terms of their own suicidal ideation in the past or through the loss of family or friends.
One of our priorities was to ensure support was available to the young people we were working with, both for themselves and to ensure the campaign was created safely. We commissioned training from Papyrus for the young people to address appropriate language around suicide and ensure a deeper understanding of suicide.
We brought in a sound engineer and a creative writing tutor, to help the young people identify positive messages to share, turn these into poems, and then record the poems in a studio. They designed postcards which detailed how to access support and created a film for the Headstart Hull YouTube channel. We provided training and support across a range of practical skills so the young people could fully engage in the delivery of the campaign, this included: media training so they could promote the website and campaign themselves; support to understand the campaign budget and get prioritising how much was spent on what; and project planning skills to ensure the campaign met its deadlines.
Initially the campaign and soundscapes were launched at the Guildhall and were then taken on tour around the city, both into schools, local community and arts events and festivals and to three areas around the city that vulnerable people might go. In each location the soundscape was in place for about 6 weeks.
In addition, the soundscape was featured in the Artlink multimedia art exhibition on mental health and also at the Big Malarkey children’s literature festival. At the exhibition and the literature festival, our young volunteers (who developed the campaign) ran informal workshops with other young people to discuss the issues and promote sources of support.
We continue to use the soundscape at our events; it is a significant asset to our work.
Alongside this we worked with the young people to coproduce a website called How are you feeling, which is intended to be a trusted source of information, advice and support for young people, parents and carers.
We also worked with Papyrus to deliver suicide awareness training in schools and to youth workers, so that young people who are encouraged by the campaign or soundscape to talk and ask for help, and adults across youth settings could have those conversations safely.
The soundbites and their presence around the city generated a great deal of positive media coverage and we believe it increased awareness and conversation, although our evidence is only anecdotal. We do know that we had 1368 unique visitors to our website in a quarter and 4239 site views, with most people looking at more than one part of the site.
For the young people involved, they developed a range of skills including project planning, budgeting, creative writing, dealing with the media, presenting skills, workshop facilitation, and event organisation. They also saw the reality of how complex it is to put a campaign together.
The young people have told us that working on the campaign brought them together, as they were sharing personal stories and experiences which helped them bond as a group and make “forever friends”. Many of them have used the skills and confidence they gained in other parts of their lives:
- One volunteer now has a role at his college providing peer support to other students struggling with their emotional wellbeing
- Another volunteer was accepted to the international Genesis academy in Chicago, to learn more about campaigning and peace journalism with only a handful of other young people from around the world
- Many of the volunteers have taken on other roles within the HeadStart Partnership including becoming young commissioners or young evaluators, being involved in the recruitment and selection of emotional health staff.
All the young people have told us that they now have a better understanding of the services and support available which they and their friends could access.
To see why the young people felt this campaign was important and why they wanted to be involved check out the You are not alone film at HeadStart Hull You Tube channel.
We were fortunate to have great support from one of our local councillors who is a mental health champion. She attended all the press launches which added gravitas to the campaign locally.
We have a member of the team who works to engage young people, develop campaigns and recruit volunteers. Having someone with the expertise of working with young people was vital to the success of the project.
There was wider investment in the HeadStart Hull programme which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund Strategic Fund.
Agreeing on an appropriate location to launch the campaign was a key challenge as we needed permission to install the soundscape in key locations e.g. on a high-risk location just outside Hull, and the young people wanted to have the launch near there. There were considerations which the young people hadn’t considered, such as the additional expense, the time it would take for people to get to the event, and the impact it might have on attendance. The young people took on board these thoughts, and did a list of pros and cons, and decided for themselves to hold the launch at the Guildhall in central Hull instead.
Working with young people brings specific challenges. For example, projects will take longer when co-produced in this way as you are working around their attendance at school and also building confidence and skills as you develop the campaign. The majority of young people had never done anything like this before. However, the success of this project would not have happened without the co-production.
To conclude the campaign, we have produced a book of the poems and positive messages. We are sharing our work to help others considering co-producing campaigns with young people, for example one of the volunteers ran a coproduction workshop for public health commissioners across Yorkshire and Humber for Public Health England.
Looking ahead, there are plans from the young people to do other campaigns including one on the impact of poverty on mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Advice for other local areas
- To truly co-produce, trust in the young people you are working with. Balance allowing them responsibility with offering appropriate support and training to enable young people to take part
- To achieve quality, assess how long you believe the project will take and build in considerable contingency time
- Allow projects to be fluid as they may evolve into something different from where you started
- If youth services aren’t your area of expertise, then work with those for whom it is. Cross-working is a key to your success.
Gail Teasdale, Integrated Services Manager (CYP), Hull City Council