Specialist support for people affected by suicide
To coincide with today’s national Time to Talk campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma of mental health, NHS Kernow is raising awareness of a specialist support service for people bereaved by suicide.
The Suicide Liaison Service, which is commissioned by NHS Kernow and provided by Outlook South West, is the only NHS-funded service in England and Wales. An average of 70 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly take their own lives each year.
Whilst ‘survivors’ of suicide have certain things in common with other bereaved people, some aspects of their grief are unique, such as long-lasting anger and guilt. The service supports family and friends by providing face-to-face contact, information, practical support and guidance to help sort out personal affairs, such as dealing with the Coroner’s Office, the police, media or faith groups, where necessary.
Sandra Miles, NHS Kernow’s programme lead for mental health and learning disability, said: “Bereavement by suicide is different to other forms of grief. Many people bereaved by suicide can feel alone and unable to talk about their feelings openly. The liaison service hopes to remove this stigma so people do not feel ashamed or embarrassed to come forward for help when they need it the most.”
Anne Embury, Service Lead with Outlook South West said: “I am pleased that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are leading the way in supporting people who are bereaved by suicide, which can be very difficult for some people to deal with. We are working with other public health departments across the country to deliver similar services, including Merseyside, Chester and the Wirral. The National Suicide Prevention Alliance is also keen to learn from our work to deliver a national framework for suicide bereavement services, which is great news for people affected by suicide.”
Sarah* has used the service since the death of her partner last year. She says the service has been invaluable in not only helping her come to terms with her grief, but also preparing for the inquest.
She said: “Anne has been my advocate and an enormous help; I don’t know what I would have done without her or how I would have prepared for the inquest.
“Unlike a counselling session, where you’re guided to come to your own conclusions about a specific issue, Anne asks direct questions about how I’m feeling and what practical support I need. The other benefit is that she comes to my home, which is better than having to go to the doctor’s surgery because there are some days when I can’t face leaving the house. She gives me practical advice and support, such as helping me to prepare for the inquest, what will happen and how that is affecting me.
“I have found the legal side of my partner’s death very distressing because someone I love has been reduced to a name their date of birth and their date of death. Anne has been able to help me understand how I might be feeling at different times amongst the maelstrom of what has happened.
“I have a camaraderie with my friends and family as you are all grieving for that person, but there are some things that I can’t, or don’t want to, share with them. The difference with the service is that I can say anything I need to Anne without worrying that I may upset someone. I have never felt pushed by Anne and she lets me move at my own pace, which is really important when you’re in shock and distressed.
“The service has been an enormous help to me, it’s been my lifeline.”
*Names have been changed to protect people’s identities.