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Suicide bereavement: a unique grief experience

Death by Suicide - a worldwide issue

Worldwide over 700,000 die by suicide each year, that’s one person every 40 seconds. In the UK, 115 people lose their life to suicide each week. Understandably, losing someone in this way has a huge impact. There are similarities but also differences to grief where people have died by other means. Suicide is often sudden, may be violent and family members or loved ones may be witness, or find the person after they have died. As such, it is a more complicated grief process which is often prolonged and can come with a range of reactions which we will explore here.

Impact on loved ones

Survivors of a death by suicide may find it difficult to understand what has happened, how their loved one came to take this action or may feel anger at what they see as a choice to die. Guilt, anger, shame, rejection, sadness and fear are all common feelings. Suicide may feel difficult to understand or sit at odds with our own belief system or faith, further complicating our ability to move through the grieving process.

People bereaved by suicide often find it difficult to understand why their loved one took their life and if they, or someone else, could have prevented it. Sadly, there are often no answers to these questions and accepting this is a key part of the grieving process in order to move forward. Many bereaved by suicide find it an isolating experience, the reactions of others can be challenging to negotiate and the sense of shame and stigma can lead to withdrawal by the bereaved person. They may be faced by questions from others, or even blame, which can contribute to family rifts further deepening this sense of isolation.

Whilst some of these aspects will not be a factor for everyone, we understand that healing from the loss of someone close to you following a death by suicide is a painful journey, which may at times feel overwhelming. There are practical considerations around finances and work, sharing the news with others, the involvement of the coroners office and inquest process, and even media interest which may feel it extends the period of time before we can move forward. Telling children that someone has died by suicide in a sensitive and age appropriate way can also feel daunting. Winston’s Wish ( provide excellent information in how to ensure we can have open, age appropriate dialogue with youngsters and manage the inevitable questions they will have.

When someone dies by suicide there may be a need to consider our relationship with the deceased. It is common in many cultures following a death to continue to honour the person who has died and keep them present in some way (photographs, mementoes, anniversary rituals etc). It can be helpful to work to transform our relationship with the person who is no longer here, to find a way to continue a bond. However, the complexity of suicide as at times being perceived as abandonment or betrayal can make this transformation difficult, there may be a need to make peace with this in order to hold an ongoing connection that supports healthy grieving.

Getting help in the aftermath of suicide

Many find the support of others also bereaved in this way to be validating and supportive, and there are support groups and forums that allow safe connection to others who can understand this experience.

Grief is a process which naturally occurs, we need to take the time to understand and process the loss of the person who has died. In suicide bereavement, you may feel stuck with these complex feelings, or experience more troubling symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, overwhelming guilt and shame, an inability to move forward, depression that is affecting your ability to function, and even suicidal thoughts. This is where psychological support may be beneficial. We can support you to make sense of how these events have affected you, and the wider circle of people who knew the person who died, and find ways to process these feelings. Therapy can support you to be able to address any thoughts that are getting in the way of you moving forward and keeping you feeling stuck, as well as re-engaging with life in a meaningful way.

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