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Wendy Lewis-Cordwell
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Wendy Lewis-Cordwell, Director of Bereavement Care Services - Cumbria and Lancashire, and the North West Bereavement Care Development Consultant for Child Bereavement UK. With 27 years experience in the NHS, and a trained facilitator for BSA 'When a Patient Dies', National Gold Standards Bereavement Care Training, Child Bereavement UK, Grief Journey UK, NCPC Associate and Bereavement Care Services, educating professionals in areas of loss and bereavement.
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Teenage mental health & wellbeing

Suicide bereavement

Bereavement by suicide shares characteristics with other bereavements but it also has some differences. Understanding how and why it differs is helpful for your own understanding, or for when you are supporting others who have been bereaved by suicide.
In Short
It may be helpful to know that there are many thoughts and feelings that are likely to occur during suicide bereavement. Deepening your understanding of the process may help provide a basis for discussion with a bereavement counsellor.

How suicide bereavement is different

• The grieving process often lasts longer than other types of bereavements. See also our article “20 things about grief” to give you a deeper understanding.

• Death by suicide is usually sudden, often unexpected and may be violent.

• An increase of shock or trauma can be experienced.

• Survivors may struggle to make sense of what has happened.

• Fundamental beliefs may be challenged.

• Reactions may be unfamiliar, frightening and uncontrollable, guilt, anger, shame, rejection, blame, sadness and fear. They can also be more intense.

• Survivors may be vulnerable to thoughts of suicide themselves.

• Survivors can experience post traumatic stress.

• Survivors can experience flashbacks or nightmares especially if they found the body.

• Survivors cannot stop imagining what happened – the thoughts may be worse than the reality.

Questions… Why did the person take their life? Could I have somehow prevented it?

There is still a stigma attached to suicide, rooted in centuries of history. Misplaced associations of weakness, blame, shame or even sin or crime (the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales so that those who failed in the attempt to kill themselves would no longer be prosecuted). The stigma can prevent people from seeking help when they need it, it can also prevent people others from offering support when they want to.

Denial that death was a suicide

Cultural values and issues of shame

• Not knowing what to say.

• Bereaved person perceives other people to be uncaring and judgemental.

• The family can receive particularly thoughtless and malicious comments (via social media).

Family

There can be an escalation of family tensions possible exclusion from the rest of the family Individuals can also be excluded from funerals. Blaming each other for the death can occur.

Privacy issues

It can be difficult to maintain privacy. There may be media attention and emergency services at the scene and visits from the police. The inquest is held in a public court of law and anyone can attend. Investigations may reveal information about the bereaved person which was unknown to their family and friends (e.g. sexuality, debt, illness).

Family members being unable to return home … especially if the death happened there.

Please also see our article on “Blocks to listening” – which provides some expert advice on learning to listen to other people.

Note
Your local authority will have Bereavement Care Services at which issues like these can be discussed.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.