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  • Danusia Atkinson

Life after Suicide- what happens to those left behind?


It has been incredibly sad to see such an outpouring of grief at the death by suicide of Stephen “Twitch” Boss. Suicide is always incredibly sad, and hard to understand, and understandably, lots of attention has focused on Stephen’s wife and children. What do we know about the impact of bereavement by suicide?

In 2020, the University of Manchester published a report “From Grief to Hope: The Collective Voice of those Bereaved or Affected by Suicide in UK” *. Of the people surveyed for this report, 8% reported self-harm, 38% considered suicide themselves and 8% made a suicide attempt. A fifth engaged in other high-risk behaviours such as substance misuse. When we know that a person dies as a result of suicide in the UK every 1.5 hours, we can start to realise how many people we may be talking about. This might refer to those who have lost a family member, or a friend, or those who have witnessed a suicide.

Suicide is a complicated bereavement and often people may find themselves stuck in grief or struggling to cope with the difficult feelings. It may happen in a number of ways, first, we know that it is very important after a bereavement to be able to believe that the loss has happened. Someone may need to retell their story many times and time may need to pass before that start to really believe that someone has died. This is especially difficult where suicide has occurred- the shock of what has happened makes it even harder to understand and there is an inherent uncertainty in suicide. Many are unable to view a loved one’s body. There may not be a note, we may have no idea why someone may feel they have no other option but to take their own life. How do we come to live with that uncertainty?

An important part of grief work, as Freud described the grieving process, is to experience the pain. Many people find this so difficult-the pain may be unbearable that many use substances or deny the loss in order to manage their feelings. Whilst we know that this can be helpful to give us a break from the pain of grief, repeatedly denying ourselves the pain of grief can lead to mental health problems later on. Those bereaved by suicide may find this pain incredibly difficult not least due to the anger they may feel towards the person who died or others. They may be consumed with guilt that they hadn’t spotted someone’s pain or may feel that stigma prevents them from connecting with others in their grief.

Often those bereaved by suicide have told me of their anxiety- many different forms of anxiety, not experienced before the death and how confused they are by this. One of the concepts we might think about when exploring this anxiety is our worldview, we all have an internal assumption about the world, how do we function when this is challenged? How do we live in a world where something so terrifying can happen?

Sadly, “From Grief to Hope” * reports that 60% did not access support following a suicide. The stigma of suicide can prevent people from reaching out to others in grief and leave them managing alone.

If you have experienced bereavement by suicide, there are places and people who can support you. There are wonderful resources at Suicide and Co including podcasts and book recommendations, there are support groups at Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) and practical support services such as Amparo who operate in some areas of the UK (all names have hyperlinks to the organisations).

If you are struggling with bereavement by suicide, you can also reach out to a professional counsellor who can help you provide support. You can contact me for counselling, online or in person in Sevenoaks, Kent via the “Contact Me” section of this website. To find out more about the therapy that I offer, please look at the rest of my website.

*McDonnell S, Hunt IM, Flynn S, Smith S, McGale B, Shaw JFrom Grief to Hope: The Collective Voice of those Bereaved or Affected by Suicide in UK. Manchester: University of Manchester, November 2020.

Julia Samuel “Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving” Penguin Life, 2017

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