The Impact of Suicide on Others. What we need to do in order to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of the bereaved.

In Britain there is a suicide every 90 minutes and research suggests that it could be three times higher than this, as coroners often return verdicts of misadventure or open verdicts. For every suicide 6 to 8 people are intimately affected, with many more having resultant bereavement problems.   To lose someone you love through suicide is indescribably awful.   It has been referred to as a personal holocaust.   People torture themselves with a million questions of ‘Why?’   There is a whole kaleidoscope of emotions and feelings stirring around in a pit of despair.   The sense of rejection can be crushing too.   How can he have loved me to do what he did?   Then there is the searing guilt  – if only I’d done this or that-the replaying in the mind of countless permutations of possible scenarios of what may have been.

Over 30 years ago, I was bereaved through my father’s suicide.   At that time there was no support available to my sister and I, other than what we could offer each other.  It was incredibly hard.   My sister became depressed and I went with her to see a psychiatrist who just told her to take tablets.   There was no referral to a counsellor to whom she could ventilate her feelings.   I was only 19 at the time and knew nothing about mental health problems and distress.   However, common sense and intuition told me she needed someone to talk to but this was not on offer.   The tablets had all sorts of nasty side effects and my sister gave up taking them.   As a consequence, she became more depressed and suffered with depression for many more years.   It is a fact that people bereaved through suicide are more likely to have mental health problems and be at increased risk of suicide themselves.

In general terms, men have a lot more difficulty than women discussing their emotional issues and problems.  Male macho culture, and the concept that ‘big boys don’t cry’ is still very much around and accounts for the fact that many more men than women take their own lives.   There is also a strong need to develop culturally sensitive suicide bereavement/prevention services to people from ethnic minorities and asylum seekers and refugees.  Another important need is to develop a suicide bereavement service for children and young people this by its very nature will demand a skilful, sensitive and specialised response.   Another area of concern are mental health workers who loses service users through suicide.   These workers need help and support in the distress that they are experiencing and often with the guilt around their perceived professional failure towards the person they have lost.

We need to build a coalition of interested organisations to develop a national suicide bereavement response this also needs to be incorporated into the National Suicide Prevention Strategy similar to that developed in Australia. Presently in Britain we have a number of voluntary groups trying to provide a good service but limited by inadequate funding. This leads to a postcode lottery with some provision in some places and little or nothing elsewhere. Suicide bereavement and prevention are opposite sides to the same coin if we do not provide good support to those bereaved through suicide we will have further suicides. There is a lot of good evidence that properly run Suicide Bereavement support groups save lives and help to reduce mental and emotional distress. I was involved in running the Leeds organisation of Survivors of Suicide for 15 years and I know that during that time the group really helped many people bereaved through suicide and I am sure it played an important role in preventing further suicides.  The Samaritans have people bereaved through suicide as one of their priority groups. I gave a keynote speech at the National Samaritans Conference in September 2009 on the “Impact of Suicide on Others” and highlighted the need for a national response. This is clearly necessary as, every day, people are being bereaved through suicide.   They are an overlooked, badly neglected group of people, whose acute needs and problems are very considerable and warrant a compassionate, well-organised and systematic response.    If we live in a civilised society is this too much to ask?   Common humanity demands that we take effective action but, in addition, a fully funded National Suicide Bereavement Strategy would, in fact, prove to be very cost-effective because of its effect of in relieving mental distress and helping to reduce further suicides’.   We desperately need a national, well-funded, organised, compassionate response to people bereaved through suicide throughout the country as soon as possible. I am delighted to say that the Samaritans are very supportive of the need for this.

Mike Bush

Consultant in Mental Health

Retired Mental Health Social Worker

Member of the Leeds Suicide Prevention Strategy

Member of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Suicide Bereavement Working Party

Member of the All Party Group Suicide Prevention House of Commons

Member of the Samaritans National Advisory Group

Promoting Wellbeing in Social Work and other Caring Professions


Over thirty years ago I trained to do a very demanding, stressful job as a social worker.  During my training there was nothing taught on the course relating to the importance of looking after ourselves.  All the emphasis was on understanding and meeting the needs of service users and carers and of course although this is our raison d’être it is all to easy to forget about our own needs in the pressure to meet the needs of others and to do so can lead to drastic consequences.

This is not an academic reflection, in 2000 I suffered a very severe mental breakdown due to an intolerable combination of extremely stressful work-related pressures, problems and a bullying boss. I felt like a dead man walking. The body machine was still working but there was no one at the controls anymore. It had been a very abrupt change- one moment I had been a Senior Mental Health Social Worker, a very busy “together” professional- the next I was designated a mental health service user, feeling utterly useless, extremely vulnerable, powerless and terrified.

This one-year of living hell launched me on a journey of light years in my mind in understanding and taught me so many things about severe mental distress. Amongst the lessons I learnt in the hardest possible way was the great importance of understanding and looking after my own mental health. This led me to develop a teaching session on strategies for promoting and protecting the mental health of social workers, which I have been teaching for the last five years at universities in the Yorkshire area. I am told by senior social work lecturers that my sessions have been highly evaluated, and valued by students.  On asking students, some in the third year of their course if they have done anything on this subject before I have been astonished to find that they have not. I asked myself the question, why? I came to the conclusion that it’s a bit like the nose on your face it is so obvious it gets missed! 

There are some really important fundamental lessons here for social workers around recognising your own humanity. We are not a separate superman or woman   species to service users and carers. A social work degree is not a suite of armour. Cut us and we do in fact bleed! We are part of the human family and so we should be if we are to be fully human and understand and empathise with the needs and problems of other people. Together with this we need to recognise our own needs review these and have a care plan for ourselves. Even the toughest, most resilient people can have mental health and other problems that if not accepted and dealt with will lead to breaking point. Is prevention not better than cure?

Sadly I am not the first social worker to have had a breakdown and this also applies to others in different caring professions who also do difficult demanding stressful work. Convinced as to the great importance of the need for this, I have launched a national campaign to ensure that this is incorporated into the National Curriculum for social work courses. I think the case for it is indisputable as it is in best interests of employee, employer and service users and carers.


Mike Bush

Visiting Lecturer in Mental Health

Mental Health Consultant

Retired Mental Health Social Worker







Images From Around Kirkstall Abbey

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These photographs, taken around the abbey and riverbank, are of oft ignored aspects of the area. The Abbey so dominates Kirkstall that other parts are often missed. Sometimes they are ugly, sometimes they are forgotten and some of the time we are more familiar with seeing them in one way rather than another.

Today’s workshop was photography!

Today’s Leeds Wellbeing Web workshop was photography. We learnt all about what makes a good photograph and how to take good pictures – Peter, one of the community reporters, is a professional photographer and was a big help to the other group members.

For our practical session we went to Kirkstall Abbey and spent an hour or so taking photographs, putting what we’d learnt into practice.

Then we came back to De Lacey House here in Kirkstall and learnt how to upload the pictures onto our blog. Check out all our posts!

John’s slideshow of lovely Kirkstall Abbey

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Here’s a slideshow of photographs I took this morning for the Leeds Wellbeing Web along with my fellow community reporters. We had a really nice walk around Kirkstall Abbey – it’s a fantastic place – I’ve not been for a while and I really must come more often.

It’s very relaxing and the riverside area is beautiful. Sophie told me she’d never been before and has  today discovered one of Leeds’ real gems.