Pioneering Support: Suicide Bereavement for a country

By Professor Tim Kendall, National Clinical Director for Mental Health, NHS England

Since I became a psychiatrist I have seen the landscape of suicide prevention change considerably. We have made big changes to the way suicide prevention is perceived and worked hard to reduce the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. The NHS has given more resources to mental health teams to work with people who have attempted suicide and have made progress in ensuring better care is received in A&E departments. Community crisis care services have also been improved.

Although we have come a long way, we still have a lot of work to do. We need more investment into crisis services both in the community and in A&E. We need to improve the safety of patients within our mental health services and to provide better help more quickly for people who have self-harmed. But we also have to find the people who are at risk of suicide as early as possible, and support them.

During my career, I have seen the impact suicide has on family, on friends, and on communities.

For each person who dies, as many as 135 people can be impacted[1]; and in many cases this may be an underestimate. We also know that people who are bereaved by suicide are at risk themselves[2], which makes it ever so important to support family and friends in the days, weeks, and months, after a bereavement.

Through the NHS Long Term Plan we made a promise to implement suicide bereavement support in every area of the country. We aim to offer practical and emotional support to those closest to the person who’s died. It needs to be available for family and friends in the early days after a bereavement. Our new model will deliver support locally, to a national standard.

We are working with Support After Suicide Partnership to make this happen. The Support after Suicide Partnership have developed and launched a fantastic website for commissioners, people setting up services, people working with real time surveillance, frontline services, and anyone who is already supporting people impacted by suicide.

It’s a very important time to be working in the field of mental health and bereavement support. I have seen more activity in local areas than ever before. Organisations and self-starting individuals are running support groups, delivering local training and sharing resources.  I am proud of this multi-agency, cross sector, programme of work, which will save people’s lives and ensure that no one goes through a bereavement by suicide alone.

[1] . Cerel, J., et al. 2018. How Many People Are Exposed to Suicide? Not Six. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. DOI: 10.1111/sltb.12450

[2] Pitman, A., Osborn, D., Rantell, K., King, M. 2016a. Bereavement by suicide as a risk factor for suicide attempt: a cross-sectional national UK-wide study of 3432 young bereaved adults. e009948., BMJ Open, Vol. 6.

Learn more about why we need support and who is delivering support in England