From grief to hope
Each year some 6,500 people die by suicide in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. Each suicide impacts a further 135 people - and many of those who have been affected are also at risk of dying by suicide.
"Those bereaved and affected by suicide are finding their collective voice and no longer wish to be invisible." - Sharon McDonnell, Fellow
Caring for those bereaved by suicide (also known as ‘postvention’) is a key aspect of suicide prevention. This has been recognised as a government priority and was outlined as the key objective of England’s suicide prevention strategy in 2012.
Health professionals are also recognised as a high-risk group of suicide. Often they are anxious and uncertain about how to respond to those bereaved by suicide, due to lack of training and support. Ironically, this means that one high risk group (health professionals) is expected to care for another high-risk group (those bereaved by suicide) - without any training, guidance or support.
I am the Managing Director of Suicide Bereavement UK and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. Through this work, I have led the national suicide bereavement survey - the largest in the world - whose report From Grief to Hope was published this month.
The aim of the survey was to identify the experiences and needs of those bereaved or affected by suicide, in order to inform the government on one of the key objectives in England’s suicide prevention strategy, ‘to provide better information and support’. Over 7,000 people completed the 71-question survey, an unprecedented level of public engagement in this field.
Findings revealed that 38% of participants had considered taking their own life and 8% had attempted suicide. 33% had lost more than one person to suicide, 30% engaged in high-risk behaviour and 62% felt that the provision of support services in local areas was inadequate.
Seven recommendations were made in our report:
- The implementation of national minimum standards in postvention services.
- A national online resource for those bereaved or affected by suicide.
- A campaign to raise awareness of the impact of suicide bereavement.
- Evidence-based suicide bereavement training for frontline staff.
- Support for people with risk-taking behaviours.
- Workplace suicide bereavement report.
- Further research on the impact of suicide.
The report, entitled ‘From Grief to Hope: The Collective Voice of Those Bereaved or Affected by Suicide in the UK’, was launched at Suicide Bereavement UK’s conference on 18 November 2020. I set up SBUK following my 2013 Churchill Fellowship, which explored best practice in the care of those bereaved by suicide in Australia and New Zealand. The survey and report were a collaboration between the University of Manchester and Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP).
I believe this report will influence policy and practice in this field, both nationally and internationally. However, we cannot become complacent. Those bereaved and affected by suicide are finding their collective voice and no longer wish to be invisible. Helping people to find their voice comes with a huge responsibility, which I do not take lightly. To keep the momentum going, and help to improve practice, my research team will write and publish articles associated with the report. And in January 2021, my colleague Andrea Walraven-Thissen and I will launch evidence-based Emergency Services Postvention Response (ESPR) training, which is first of its kind internationally. Watch this space.
Authors of From Grief to Hope: Dr. Sharon McDonnell (Suicide Bereavement UK and University of Manchester), Dr Isabelle Hunt (University of Manchester), Dr Sandra Flynn (University of Manchester), Professor Jenny Shaw (University of Manchester), Shirley Smith (If U Care Share Foundation and SASP), Barry McGale (If U Care Share Foundation and SASP).
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.