Supporting people bereaved by suicide

words: Sarah Bates, Support After Suicide Partnership

The Support after Suicide Partnership is the UK’s hub for more than 35 organisations who support people affected by suicide. We do this through research, advocacy, signposting, and innovative practice. We believe that everyone bereaved or affected by suicide should be offered timely and appropriate support. We’re delighted to work in partnership with the National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors.

Around 6,000 people a year die by suicide in the UK. As you may have experienced already, suicide can be absolutely devastating for friends and family. On top of the expected grief of a sudden death, many people also feel a sense of responsibility, guilt, shame, and may feel stigmatised and isolated.

As funeral directors, you are often masters of patience, understanding, and being an open ear and a gently guiding hand. Given that funeral directors are some of the first groups of people that a family will contact after a loss, you’re in a unique position to offer practical and emotional support. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. To learn more about how to support a family who has been affected by suicide, we sat down with Paul Allcock, former National President of SAIF and volunteer at Cruse Bereavement Care.

“One of the best ways to support families is to allow them the space to be able to tell their story, while we listen and support them. We must be able to support people without judgement,” said Paul. “We also try to signpost people to other services if we can, especially with something like suicide.

“It is important to not make assumptions about the situation. We’re used to this in our profession, and it’s absolutely true with suicide; our job is to listen, guide, and provide what we think will help.” It may be helpful to remember that the worst has already happened in the family. Avoid using religious sayings such as ‘it was God’s will’ and try not to compare the death to anything you may have experienced. Remember to be honest, even when it may be hard, and be human. It is okay to find the situation difficult, even when you’re the expert.

The Support after Suicide Partnership provides a free book called Help is at Hand, which you can give to families to help them cope with bereavement. Help is at Hand is written by people who have been bereaved and affected by suicide, to help guide people through the emotional and practical challenges. So far, more than 42,000 copies have been distributed around the UK. It is free, and easy to order through the Support after Suicide website.

Alex lost his brother to suicide. He said: “Knowing that you are not alone and that you have a booklet that you can pick up, to read about the experiences of others who have lost people to suicide, was very reassuring. It was a lot of practical and emotional help.”

“I am always keen to know about any resource we can give to families,” added Paul. “It is important to encourage understanding and support at any level. It is hard though, we’re all human. To some extent you can get into a headspace which allows you to deal with it, and help the people in front of you, but it definitely leaves a mark.”

It is important to recognise that supporting a family through the aftermath of a suicide can be really challenging and that even funeral directors are not immune, so it’s important to make sure you and your colleagues support each other. When you are arranging the funeral of someone who has died by suicide, it may be helpful to make sure that all of the staff are aware, and that they check in with each other.

The Support after Suicide Partnership is a nationwide network of organisations that support people affected by suicide. The website has free online resources including a map of local services in the UK.

The University of Manchester and the SASP are currently conducting research to improve support for those bereaved by suicide. If you would like to share your experiences of suicide professionally or personally, click here.

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