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.
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