The 8th March is International Womens Day. To mark this occasion, we are celebrating Jean Kerr, the incredible woman behind PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide. Jean founded PAPYRUS in 1997, beginning our important work to save young lives. This week, we spoke to Jean and asked her about her formative role.
How did you come to establish PAPYRUS and why?
My younger son, Edward, died by suicide in 1989 at the age of seventeen. It was a great shock. I’d never contemplated that this could happen with my family. I began researching suicide and attending conferences. I was asked to speak at suicide prevention conferences. I also met other parents who were bereaved by suicide, through The Compassionate Friends(an organisation for bereaved parents) but I felt like I wanted to do more to raise awareness and improve suicide prevention.
How did the name come together?
Initially I was a lone voice but as I began to meet other parents who were similarly bereaved I realised we needed to join together and PAPYRUS was born. My husband and I came up with PAPYRUS – the Parents Association for the Prevention of Young Suicide. And it resonated with us for a few reasons. Firstly, my son Edward was keen on Egyptology. Secondly, I’d been encouraging people who couldn’t talk about their suicidal feelings to write them down – and of course papyrus was the first writing paper.
Why is the work that PAPYRUS does so important?
People, even today, don’t talk about suicide. I felt that the stigma had to be taken away and that’s what PAPYRUS works towards doing. I feel that it’s only now in the last few years that people are starting to talk about mental health or suicide more. PAPYRUS was talking about suicide long before people were prepared to listen. We were the first.
What was your biggest achievement at PAPYRUS?
Charities come and go. PAPYRUS is still around. I knew we had to start addressing suicide in schools – that’s where you can lay the groundwork for saving lives. We are seeing people going into schools now. And PAPYRUS has helped change the discussion around mental health to include suicide, although there is still work to be done.
What was your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was being heard. The professionals had to learn to listen to those of us parents who had experienced the loss of a beloved child by suicide. It took some years to be accepted.
Do you have any words of encouragement for those of us working towards greater suicide prevention?
The only failure is the failure to try! You can never measure how many lives you have saved. You have to believe that you are making a difference and you are.