Suicide Bereavement and Postvention

1 May 2009
The profound effects of suicide can often be likened to a stone thrown into a lake in that the ripples that radiate have a multiplier effect; impacting the lives of any number of individuals—from family to friends, colleagues, clinicians, coronial staff, volunteers of bereavement support services and other associates—who inevitably suffer intense and conflicted emotional distress in response to a death of this kind. In spite of this, the mechanisms of bereavement following suicide remain largely unexplored and empirically understudied. What is known is that, while a death in a close relationship can be one of life’s greatest stresses, the grief following suicide undeniably has its own particular difficulties. Indeed, the bereavement specific to suicide can be said to be unique from other forms of bereavement; largely as a consequence of the individual and social stigma frequently associated with suicide, which has been found to be a major inhibiting factor in the reluctance exhibited towards help-seeking among individuals bereaved by suicide. This is a major public health concern for Australia, given that suicide bereaved individuals are at increased risk of developing adverse physical and mental health problems, including complications to pre-existing health conditions. They also themselves often experience a heightened risk of suicidal ideation, behaviours and attempts; particularly where appropriate, on-demand systems of support are either limited or lacking, and/or individuals experience other compounding adverse life events. Suicide Prevention Australia recognises that there is an urgent need for better continuity of care of suicide bereaved individuals; extending beyond immediate follow-up after a suicide to longer-term care—even, in some cases, lifetime support.