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Almost 50 million people across the globe are bereaved by suicide each year, but there remains a stigma surrounding losing a loved one who took their own life.
This stigma can leave those grieving the death of someone who died by suicide feeling isolated and unable to discuss the person’s death, which goes on to act as a barrier to the healing process.
With this in mind, it can then lead to those grieving to experience mental health issues themselves, which can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. Previous studies have shown that those dealing with suicide bereavement were 1.6 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, 2.9 times more likely to have a plan for suicide, and 3.7 times more likely to have made a suicide attempt.
One charity hoping to change these harrowing statistics is Suicide&Co, which was founded by Emma Morrisroe and Amelia Wrighton, both of whom have experienced suicide bereavement.
Emma was 20 years old when her father took his own life, while Amelia was 19 when her mum died by suicide.
Speaking about losing her mum, Amelia, who was in her first year at university at the time, told UNILAD, ‘I’d just turned 19 – it was 3 weeks after my birthday – and there’s this weird part of adulthood you’re in where you’re more understanding of [suicide] and you’re not a child anymore, but you’re still trying to be independent. […] Anybody that goes through something like [losing a parent to suicide], they’re forced to grow up instantly.’
I was fleeing the nest from my parents anyway, then it felt like a real shock. On a level, I had been vaguely aware from around the age of 14 of the fact my mum had mental health issues, and it was something that was a bit of an undercurrent of my upbringing, but nothing prepares you for that actual call, that actual notice that that’s happened.
I also think what happens when you’re that age is that you want to be involved in the big decisions like funeral decisions and things like that because you are in adulthood, and you have an opinion, but still people are trying to protect you because of your youth.
Meanwhile, Emma said she felt like she was ‘hit by a bus’ when she was told her father had died. She explained, ‘I was 20 and in my final year of university, so I was entering this whole new exciting world. You’re promised that if you go and behave, do really well at school, and go on to uni, that you have this future in front of you, and I just remember feeling like all of that was crushed in a moment.’
‘It felt like all that hard work and trying to make everyone around you proud, parents included, all of that felt worthless and a waste of time. So yeah, I was really cross about it.’
I also remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is so unlike anything that any of my friends have gone through,’ because we’re meant to have parents until they’re old. We’re meant to have children to make them grandparents, and all of that was taken away instantly.
In light of there being high rates of suicide in those bereaved by it, both Emma and Amelia have taken care of their mental health to ensure they didn’t become part of that statistic.
For Emma, she emphasised how time can be a healer. She said, ‘I feel very fortunate everyday to not be one of those statistics, however I do know that it can happen very, very easily. I think a big part of how I dealt with it is time. It was a good 10 years before Amelia and I started on this journey of the charity together, and that 10 years was a lot of time to think about how I felt about my own personal loss, before I could start helping other people with their loss, and navigate that suicide bereavement journey that we do at the charity.’
Meanwhile, Amelia explained how she would approach conversations about mental health-related topics, allowing to her find several resources she found useful to help.
She told UNILAD, ‘My entryway into that [conversation about mental health] was to talk about my sleep. I would get help around that, and that then in time helped my mental health. I think my first step into this space was books. I found really early entry points of what we would say before was a self help book, or a self care book; I got really into them. Then, from there, I grew into using apps and more things.’
Amelia also credits exercise for helping her take care of her mental wellbeing, and described her morning walks as ‘the biggest thing’ for her.
As to how Amelia and Emma came together to create Suicide&Co, the pair worked together, but didn’t discuss the topic of their families until they decided to duck out of a boring work event together one afternoon to go to the pub.
It was during their time at the pub that Emma picked up on the way Amelia was speaking about her mum in a way that she recognised. Amelia explained, ‘We were talking about our families and everything and we’d never really had that sort of conversation before as colleagues, and Emma was the one that sort-of twigged that I was talking in a way that she sort-of recognised. By that I mean I was missing out parts. I wasn’t talking about my mum at Christmas, I wasn’t saying these things, so Emma asked if I’d lost my mum, to which I said yes.’
‘Emma then put two and two together and had the balls to say, ‘Did you lose your mum to suicide?’, which I did. So, we had this moment and really connected, and a couple of weeks later Emma had thought of the name Suicide&Co as a concept, literally meaning suicide and company.’
The pair then conducted research into suicide bereavement and prevention, and came to the conclusion that they felt there needed to be more resources available to those who are bereaved by suicide, so decided to focus Suicide&Co on that.
Discussing why she thinks there isn’t enough funding into suicide bereavement, Emma said:
I think people always lean into the prevention side, rather than postvention, because it all goes back to shame and that stigma – the shame that society feels when someone dies by suicide because, all that prevention that’s out there, it’s not enough to stop it. I do often think people shy away from the postvention because it’s a big, fat, ‘Look, we need more support and we need more help’.
That doesn’t take away form all the wonderful work by the likes of Samaritans and CALM, and all the other brilliant prevention things people are doing, but it is a bit of a slap in the face of, even though we’re doing that, there’s still this huge loss that society’s going through every single year, and it’s not going away, sadly.
Since launching their charity, Suicide&Co now offers an array of different resources to those bereaved by suicide, including free counselling sessions.
Most recently, Amelia and Emma have released their conversation guide to help people navigate their way round the topic of suicide with someone. The duo worked with a group of bereaved people to ask what they thought should be included.
Discussing it, Amelia said they felt people didn’t ‘have the right tools to have these conversations’, but now hope their guide will ‘give people the right knowledge and the right tools’ so they don’t ‘shy away’ from these topics.
Suicide&Co also offers people across England and Wales the chance to have 12 free counselling sessions if they’re over 18 and have passed the six month anniversary of their loss. This timeline is implemented because, as per their research, around this time frame is when suicide bereavement counselling is most effective for someone.
Since launching the charity in February, there’s been more than 150 applicants for the counselling service.
For people who need support sooner, Suicide&Co have launched the first national helpline in the UK that’s run by bereavement counsellors, rather than volunteers. It runs Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm. In addition to all this, the charity’s website also has a help hub with even more resources to help people.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, please know that whether you’re having suicidal thoughts yourself, know someone who is, or have lost someone to suicide, there’s help out there for you.
If you’d like you donate towards Suicide&Co’s work, you can do so here.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123
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