Bereavement by Suicide
Within your education setting, children and young people will regularly experience bereavement and loss through the natural course of life events. This period of time, throughout a global pandemic, may have increased these events.
One of the main physiological factors that has been experienced during the pandemic has been the wider impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, with elevated stress and anxiety having a real impact for some. This has, unfortunately, led to people completing suicide. There is not enough statistical evidence to report an increase or decrease in completed suicides, however behind every person completing suicide is a devastated group of people, potentially including the children and young people within your education setting.
Sensitive issues to keep in mind
A bereavement through suicide can be an extremely confusing time for a child or young person and it is important to note that everyone will process this differently. There can be a number of factors to take into account, including:
- the age of the child or young person impacted by the suicide
- the relationship they had with the person who completed suicide
- their understanding of the situation and the circumstances around the death
- their age and stage in terms of being able to process bereavement
- their understanding of suicide generally
- their role in the suicide, for example, some children and young people can be the involved in the process of finding the body of the deceased
Feelings, questions and guilt
The above factors will contribute to the child or young person’s feelings around the loss of someone they know by suicide. They may experience periods of anger directed towards the person who has died, compounded by feelings of abandonment, particularly if the suicide was of a sudden nature. It is common for young people to have questions following a suicide and for them to ask questions to try and find some answers they need, such as why the person completed suicide and if there is anything else that could have been done to prevent it. This can cause feelings of guilt and shame, which can lead to feelings of prolonged low mood or anxiety. It is very important for adults in their life to re-assure them that they were not responsible for their death.
Stigma of suicide
There remains a societal stigma attached to suicide and this can have an impact on the child or young person experiencing the bereavement, leading to isolation within the community. School life may become difficult for them to engage within if they feel shame about the loss. These feelings can have an impact on social circles and could also have a real impact on their ability to engage with learning. There is also religious and cultural beliefs that need to be taken on board, with a moral issue surrounding death by suicide for some. Suicide may provide other young people with the opportunity to make negative comments towards those experiencing bereavement and this can pose a real issue when trying to process grief and bereavement generally.
Your role as an educator
You can play a pivotal role for the child or young experiencing this. School may be a safe place for the young person to open up and talk to adults, particularly if the subject of the suicide is not discussed at home. It is important, where possible, to have open dialogue with the family prior to the child or young person returning back into school. Staff should continue to be vigilant and, where possible, re-assure the child or young person that the suicide was not their fault. It will be important for the staff team to keep an eye on potential bullying issues that may arise. The child or young person may have their own thoughts about suicide and it will be important to keep a check on this to ensure they are fully supported. It’s really important that the school is viewed as a safe place to vent their feelings.
- Child Bereavement (Supporting YP bereaved by suicide) - https://www.childbereavementuk.org/information-bereaved-by-suicide
- Winston’s Wish (Death Through Suicide) - https://www.winstonswish.org/death-through-suicide/
- NHS (Support After Suicide) - https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Suicide/Documents/Help%20is%20at%20Hand.pdf
- Health Talk (Bereavement by Suicide) - https://healthtalk.org/bereavement-due-suicide/support-for-children-and-young-people
Link to useful worksheets: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none