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The General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC)

After suicide
A resource for GPs

What is suicide bereavement?

The terms grief, bereavement and mourning are often used interchangeably to refer to either the state of having lost someone to death, or the response to death.34 More specifically:

  • bereavement is the situation in which someone who is close dies (see ‘who are the bereaved’, regarding the notion of ‘close’)
  • grief is the natural response to bereavement (ie the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physiological reactions to the death of someone close)
  • mourning is the process of adapting to a loss and integrating grief.35

Studies asking whether suicide bereavement is different to other types are unclear, as findings vary depending on what suicide bereavement is compared to (eg natural causes, homicide, violent death) and methodology used.15

Overall, it appears that bereavement from suicide is quite similar to bereavement experiences with other traumatic losses, although with suicide some of those affected will experience:

  • greater feelings of rejection and abandonment
  • greater feelings of shame and stigma (which may lead to hiding the cause of death and reduced help-seeking)
  • increased self-destructiveness and suicidality
  • greater feelings of guilt and self-blame
  • activism and obsession with suicide.8,15,36

The bereavement journey following a suicide is typically prolonged. This highlights the need for continuity of care of the bereaved, that extends beyond immediate follow-up after a suicide to longer-term, even lifelong, care.8