Gaps in supports for those bereaved by suicide - study

Research focusing on people who have lost loved ones to suicide has highlighted the need for affordable and timely support to help those who are bereaved.

The study was conducted to provide a national profile around the impact of suicide bereavement and has been published as part of World Mental Health Week.

Funded by the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention, 2,413 adults were surveyed by researchers at the National Suicide Research Foundation, in collaboration with the suicide bereavement charity HUGG (Healing Untold Grief Groups).

It sought to identify gaps and barriers to accessing appropriate supports for those affected.

While most, 62%, of the participants had lost a family member or partner to suicide, a significant proportion had experienced the loss of friends, work colleagues, or as part of their professional role - including first responders, members of An Garda Síochána and healthcare workers.

Half of participants, 54%, experienced multiple bereavements.

Common grief experiences reported included expressions of guilt, feelings of perceived stigma and shame, as well as searching for an explanation for the death.

Impacts following the death included mental health challenges, relational or family problems and prolonged use of alcohol.

Conversely, many participants also reported positive personal growth over time.

One-third of participants did not access any supports following their loss.

Formal supports were accessed to a lesser extent by men or people experiencing suicide loss as part of their professional role.

Those who did access support generally found them to be beneficial, particularly specialised services.

Factors which helped people access support included realising the significance of the mental health impacts, encouragement and information from others, financial and practical ease of access, and previous positive experiences.

Two-thirds, 65%, of participants felt the quality of services in their area was poor and common barriers to accessing support included lack of awareness, availability, waiting times and financial costs.

Half of participants, 56%, reported poor mental wellbeing and reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, which were higher than the general population.

Poor mental wellbeing was most pronounced for young adults aged 18-24.

The National Suicide Research Foundation says the findings underline the need to rethink what is meant by suicide bereavement and highlight the significant and enduring impacts on friends, work colleagues and professionals experiencing a loss by suicide.

The study identified two priority groups that may have unmet needs - Young Adults (18-24 years) and professionals experiencing suicide loss as part of their professional role.

The research also shows that the impact of suicide bereavement is "significant, wide-ranging and complex" and needs are both practical and health-related.

It stresses the need for increased awareness about the high prevalence of thoughts of self-harm or suicide among people bereaved by suicide.

The Research Foundation also says there is a clear need for a range of high-quality and standardised supports and services, which are responsive and tailored to suicide bereavement and individual needs.

It says the perceived stigma expressed by many participants underlines the need for better awareness on how to speak and support someone who has been bereaved by suicide, and to have appropriate training for professionals providing postvention services.

CEO of HUGG Fiona Tuomey described the findings of the research as 'a road map'.

"We should use these results to find a better way to build a suicide bereavement support network for those who want it. But most importantly, we must ensure that those providing these vital support services are being trained and supported themselves."


Ailbhe Conneely, Social Affairs & Religion Correspondent, RTE

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