On Wednesday, we attended the 9th International Suicide Bereavement Conference organised so brilliantly by Suicide Bereavement UK. We had hoped to spend the day in Manchester hearing from speakers and spending time getting to know other attendees and sharing learning. However, the virtual event was put together so well with the ability to share comments among eachother, that the psychical presence was rarely noticed.
The theme of this year's conference was all about the Collective Voice; how collaboration, sharing learning, supporting one another and working together can result in an incredible difference being made. Once again, we were moved by the courage of so many talking from their own lived experience, and it never fails to impress on us the number of people who have been affected by suicide. Dr Sharon McDonnell referred to the devastating number of deaths by suicide in the UK each year, and how each tragic incident then goes on to affect 135 individuals. When looking at the ONS 2019 statistics of 6,500 deaths by suicide in the UK, this sees an unimaginable 877,500 people affected as a result. As Dr McDonnell rightly phrased it, "this is a major mental health and public health issue", and is a startling statistic that must not be ignored.
"This is a major mental health and public health issue"
Postvention and bereavement services are vital in order to support hundreds of thousands of people that are deeply impacted by the loss of a friend, family member, colleague (and other) to suicide. The responses and the circumstances to a death by suicide are deeply complex and can leave permanent scarring and trauma to those left behind. During the conference, a metaphor was used to describe these wounds, likening losing someone to suicide to a close impact explosion and being left with shards, some big and some small, all over your body. The act of tending to this long-lasting, and often all-consuming, grief must be prioritised across emergency services and mental health organisations, in the same way we would expect the care to be given to physical wounds. The presentations delivered throughout the day reassured us all that the work is being done to ensure this happens, to eradicate stigma and continue putting mental health and suicide prevention and postvention on the national agenda.
Thank you to each and every speaker during the conference, each brought experience, lessons learnt, perspectives, guidance, practices and thoughts that were, and are, invaluable. We must continue to use our collective voice across businesses, education, charities, communities and more to make big steps forward to reducing rates of suicide, providing targeted resources and support to those bereaved and continuously evolving how postvention activity looks across the UK, and beyond.
Suicide Bereavement UK have now published their report 'From Grief to Hope' which can be found here. This is a project six years in the making. The team who have worked on this study, led by Dr Sharon McDonnell, deserve an immense amount of praise for their dedication and commitment to an incredibly important piece of work. Lastly, we must recognise the 7,150 people who candidly shared their lived experience and engaged with this survey, detailing their perspective as a bereaved parent, child, sibling, friend, partner, care giver, colleague and more. The significant amount of responses is unprecedented, leading to this report being based on the findings from the largest suicide bereavement survey internationally. It really is an incredible feat, please follow the link and read this report, and keep in mind every individual who shared their experience to build this bigger comprehensive picture, which will lead to a continuous evolution in the bereavement support offered in future.