Bereavement due to suicide

Messages to professionals and policy makers

The people we talked to had important messages for doctors, the police, coroners’ officers, counsellors and policy makers (see also ‘Police involvement’ and ‘The inquest’).

To doctors and those involved in training doctors

  • Mental health should be a bigger priority in training
  • Listen to your patient and take action if people with mental illness or their relatives ask for urgent help
  • Be careful not to discharge patients with mental health problems from hospital wards too soon or without adequate follow-up care or support
  • If someone dies by suicide make sure that close relatives and friends are told where to find information, support and counselling. Help make a referral if appropriate
  • Make sure young doctors feel valued and are given enough support so that if they find work difficult they do not feel they are failing

To the police (see also ‘Police involvement’)

  • Think carefully about the words you use before delivering bad news
  • Don’t expect people to drive through the night to identify a body; relatives may be in a state of shock. Make sure a police officer does the driving
  • Explain what is likely to happen next
  • Treat the things that belonged to the person who died with respect
  • Do not incinerate articles that belonged to the deceased without permission from the next of kin
  • Treat the deceased and their family with respect – for example don’t talk about them as ‘the suicide’s widow’
  • Find out what help exists for those bereaved by suicide
  • Know where to refer people for counselling or other support
  • Pass on relevant information and details about support organisations
  • Make sure people understand that anything they tell you will be confidential
  • Understand what might drive people to suicide, such as the importance of ‘honour’, or ‘izzat’, in the Asian community and how this can divide families
To coroners and coroners’ officers (also see ‘The inquest’)
  • Choose words carefully when discussing someone’s suicide with a relative
  • Explain what may happen at the inquest
  • Tell people about the time scales involved
  • Explain the layout of the court
  • Warn people if they might be called as a witness
To counsellors and therapists
  • People are all different and they cope in different ways. Help for the individual should be tailored to their personal needs.
  • Try to be patient with people. Don’t expect people to ‘move on’ too quickly.
  • Those bereaved by suicide may not want support from the professionals who were responsible for the care of the person who died by suicide
  • Some people may want support immediately after a friend or relative has died by suicide. Others may want support and counselling weeks, months or years later
To policy makers
  • More money should be spent on mental health issues
  • Information for people who have been bereaved should be more easily available
  • Half-way houses’ should be created for people with mental health problems to go to when they leave hospital, where they can feel safe and get help when they need it without having to pay
  • The issue of assisted suicide needs wider debate, so that people can be offered dignified choices when it comes to dying (also see the Healthtalk site called ‘Living with Dying’ where we talked to others about this)

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated October 2010.


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