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Nina Smith Edge Hill University

News story

Former teacher hopes to inform suicide prevention policy after brother’s death

July 18, 2023

A former teacher, who lost her brother to suicide two weeks before starting a Masters degree in mental health, hopes to honour his memory through her work.

Nina Smith, from Wigan, was preparing to begin her studies at Edge Hill University when she received a knock at the door sharing the tragic news that her brother, Will, had passed away.

Determined not to postpone her studies, Nina, who had been a primary school teacher for 10 years and has two young daughters, decided to continue despite her grief.

Now Nina is graduating with a distinction in MSc Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health and has gone on to study for a PhD at Edge Hill working in partnership with Sport England, British Cycling and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Nina Smith Edge Hill University

“To lose my little brother to suicide, just two weeks before I was due to start a master’s in mental health, was devastating. Rather than deferring, I decided to throw myself into my work.

“My first day at Edge Hill was only four days after the funeral, and we spent the day completing suicide prevention training. If only I had done this training a few weeks earlier, maybe I could have helped my brother.

“It took me a while to be able to interact with people. When I first started, during lectures, tears would stream down my face as the content we were learning about was so pertinent and personal to me.

“In some ways, it helped me to understand what had happened to my brother and I used my grief to inform my studies. The lecturers were incredibly supportive, and I cannot thank them enough.

“I would like people to realise that people who die by suicide are not just numbers or statistics. They have a face and a name and a story. They are people with families who love them and miss them every day.”

Nina Smith

During her studies, Nina used existing research and theory to develop and deliver targeted interventions for at-risk adolescents who engaged in self-harm or had attempted suicide. These carefully designed workshops were delivered to high school pupils in the North West. 

“Schools are trying extremely hard to support pupils with their mental health but, with limited training, time constraints and so many other pressures, they need support and guidance.

“It’s been such an awful time, but it gives me comfort to think that perhaps, in the future, my work can help prevent another big sister from getting that knock at the door.

“I hope if my brother can see me, that he’ll be proud.”

Nina Smith

As well as working towards a PhD, Nina has also won a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship. As part of this, she will travel to Australia and the USA to explore school-based suicide prevention strategies.

Nina hopes her learning from the fellowship, which is supported by Samaritans, will help to inform policy and practice in the UK, helping schools to be better equipped in providing vital support.

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July 18, 2023


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