The death of a school colleague or pupil
What support can GCC Occupational Health provide to Staff?
Support is available to any school where a traumatic incident such as the death of a work colleague or pupil where there is likely to be an emotional or psychological impact on staff.
Support for the Head Teacher or lead professional dealing with the incident
Not only will the Head Teacher or Senior Leader in this type of situation be balancing the demands of colleagues, pupils and parents, they will also likely be affected themselves by what has happened. Our role is initially to support the Head in order for them to be able to effectively support the wellbeing of the staff team in the hours and days immediately after an incident. The sooner we are able to make contact with you the better. We can offer:
- Practical advice, about when and what to communicate to staff in the best interests of their wellbeing needs
- A listening ear and a place to off load, being a leader can be a ‘lonely place’ at times
- A trusted space for you to talk about your own feelings and emotions, in order to boost your own resilience
- Signs and symptoms of distress to look out for of in work colleagues
- Fact sheets and information to provide to staff including signposting services
- Discuss how OH might help the wider staff team over coming weeks and months
On site visit, if required
We are able to send a member of our counselling team who has additional training in critical incident response to school and can provide:
- A group debrief session for staff. A confidential, safe place for events to be processed within the school staff family, facilitated by a professional counsellor
- Drop-in sessions with a counsellor. For individual staff members who might welcome the chance to talk privately
We will stay in touch and help Heads to keep a ‘watchful brief’ including:
- A streamlined management referral process for any individual staff member who might need longer term support
- Advice about other services and places of support
How to access this support?
- Ring the OH advice line 01452 425073 option 2 (office hours)
- Email email@example.com
- Ask any professional from GCC to pass your details on to Occupational Health on your behalf
Please note it helps us if you let us know the name and contact number of the appropriate person to contact at school.
Is there a charge for any of these services?
No, our aim is to support the wellbeing of school staff and all the above services are covered within the cost of our subscription service. Schools or educational establishments that do not have an annual subscription with us may be asked to contribute to the cost of providing some of the items listed however.
You might like to read more
We have produced some guidance for staff called ‘Reacting to a traumatic event at work’ which is available from Occupational Health.
Health Assured Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
As well as the service described above the Health Assured EAP offers support to staff on a self – referral basis. Staff can ring for support at any time but should check first that their school purchases the service.
Phone 0800 030 5182 (free 24 hour helpline)
What schools have said about this service:
‘Your team were absolutely amazing - thank you. The counsellor was incredible and it really helped us.’ Infant school Head teacher, Glos
‘Thank you for the support, the staff have really appreciated it, as have I.’ Primary school Head, Tewkesbury
‘(Your support) is much appreciated and great to know OH is there for us.’ Community Special School.
Reacting to a Traumatic Event at Work
When something happens that is distressing and unexpected, most people will experience a reaction that can be unpleasant, disturbing and potentially overwhelming. Just as, if you are physically hit, you bruise, so an emotional or psychological shock can have an impact that takes time to fade. This is called a post-traumatic stress reaction.
In the majority of cases, this reaction will subside over time as you gradually come to terms with the experience and its effects.
Understanding the reaction and how you can help yourself at such a difficult time means that you are more likely to recover quickly and fully. It also helps you, if necessary, to get professional help at any early stage when this recovery is hampered, for whatever reason.
It is important to remember that Post Traumatic Stress is a natural reaction to an abnormal event.
People sometimes wonder why they have been affected when others around them seem fine. They feel as though they are weak and should be able to “pull themselves together.” The important thing to remember is that we are all affected by different things at different times in our lives.
You may feel particularly vulnerable if you:
- Were very close to the person or situation
- Have suffered other losses or bereavement recently, or unresolved ones in the past
- Can identify with the person or situation, for example the person is/was the same age as yourself / a significant other
- Were already feeling low in mood, anxious or stressed
There are a range of reactions that people have, and these will vary in how frequent, long-lasting or strong they are. However, the symptoms themselves fall into common themes and will usually include a combination of some of the following:
Your body undergoes many changes when reacting to the traumatic incident and these changes result in physical symptoms that can take time to settle.
- Sleep disturbances, nightmares and bad dreams
- Sweats or feeling clammy
- Digestive complaints
- Skin rashes
- Accelerated heart rate and respiration
How you think is often affected
- Poor concentration and difficulty focusing and remembering things
- You may have intrusive images related to the incident
- Thinking about the event when you don’t mean to
- Going through the “what ifs?”
You may find your emotions are changed and you are feeling
- “Wired” / high and ready for something to happen
- Irritable, angry. Like a volcano about to erupt.
- Extreme anxiety about yourself or loved ones
- Tearful and easily upset
You may have noticed changes in how you are behaving or the people around you may tell you about these changes
- Avoiding anything to do with the event or conversely compulsively looking for reminders
- Having an exaggerated startle response – an overreaction to loud noises or sudden movements
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Unable to have loving feelings Unable to enjoy social activities Increasing the use of alcohol and cigarettes
All of these reactions are normal and, short term, will not cause lasting harm. It is important to give yourself time to recover and accept that you may not be as efficient and effective as normal. Traumatic events can cause a great deal of shock - then emotional disturbance that may take time to subside.
However, the reaction you have can lead to you feeling out of control and confused and this is one of the reasons that it is important to understand how and why your body and mind are reacting as they are.
Ways you can help yourself
The following simple steps can go a long way to helping the psychological “bruise” fade away
- Talking things through with a good listener
- Avoiding alcohol and other forms of self medication
- Reducing stimulants such as caffeine, especially late at night
- Limiting your exposure to distressing media
- Taking regular exercise
- Eating regular, well-balanced meals
- Keeping a diary of your thoughts and feelings
- Setting yourself small, realistic goals
When to seek professional help
Sometimes, a Post-Traumatic Stress is so intense or chronic that you may benefit from speaking to a professional who understands trauma. The GCC Occupational Health team has a counselling team that your manager, Head of Service or Head Teacher can refer you to firstname.lastname@example.org you can be seen quickly and in confidence.
If you would prefer not to speak to your employer than contact your GP service.
You should also seek advice if
- You do not have someone to share your thoughts, feelings and experience with and you think this would be helpful
- You feel despair or have thoughts of harming yourself
- You have any concerns about how you are reacting
- If, after a month, you don’t feel that you have improved
The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
The Health Assured EAP offers support and guidance to staff through it’s dedicated counselling team phone
0800 030 5182 free 24 hour helpline –
(if you work in a school, please check first that your school purchase the EAP).
!!! Please Remember !!!
Professional help is available from your organisation, your doctor or local health provider.
Don’t suffer in silence.