Children & Young People Support after Suicide Bereavement

  
FAMILY SUPPORT WORK

Children can often feel like the ‘forgotten mourners’ after a suicide and they are sometimes deemed either too young to understand or need protecting from the reality of suicide.

Adults, who most likely already feel overwhelmed by the situation, are at a loss as to how to talk to children about suicide and express that they do not feel that they have adequate resources or knowledge to have difficult conversations with them.
 
What is important to remember is that, children are intuitive and will be affected by the death of a family member, especially when the person has died by suicide.
 
Children bereaved by suicide are more vulnerable as they grow up, so it is imperative that children can be involved in the processing of what has happened in order to develop skills to become resilient adults.



Providing an outside source of support, with relevant skills and experience in suicide bereavement is in our opinion an essential part of supporting children and ensuring that they have a voice. Enabling them to explore their own needs and articulate these to those adults around them is extremely important for them.


  
Sunflowers believe the initial work with children should at least start with the whole family. This is because individual work with children will be more effective if it is placed in the context of the family.
 
Everyone in a family will be affected by a suicide, although in different ways, because of differing ages, stages of development and relationship with the person who died. The death, and consequent emotional responses and grieving, will affect how a parent is able to talk with and respond to their children. They may find it impossible to talk about suicide and may find their children’s questions intolerable. In this case children may not be given the information they need to make sense of or process what has happened, or conversations may be shut down. So it is not very helpful if children develop openness around suicide through 1-2-1 individual work that cannot be continued or supported within the family in the future.
 
Also, if children feel there are things that should not be spoken about or that may distress their parents, then they will be very guarded in individual work. By starting conversations with the whole family a practitioner can better understand the dynamics of the family. Openness and inclusion can be modelled for parents/adults, and difficult conversations can be facilitated.
 
When the situation has been acknowledged by everyone and feelings have been normalised, then people relax and can engage in work because they don’t feel threatened. Psycho education is also an important part of understanding what is happening and their own feelings. From this firm base grows the possibility for children to engage in individual work without feeling that they ‘have a problem’ or ‘are a problem’, with an understanding that everyone is struggling to understand and find a way forward.


what we offer
 
Initially, we will work with the entire family unit including the children who are bereaved by suicide as a whole, rather than just the children on their own. It is important that children feel safe and comfortable when talking about suicide and we will spend time building a relationship with the whole family. 
 
Liz will spend some time prior to the meeting disucssing with the parents or carers what the family support sessions will involve. During her time with the family, Liz will draw upon her professional skills and knowledge to work with the family unit and to talk to the family in an age appropriate way about suicide taking the strain and uncertainty away from parents or carers who are often themselves feeling too overwhelmed and traumatised to communicate effectively.
 
The initial family meeting will usually take about 2 hours.
 
There may then be a second family meeting offered and this is the time when it is likely that families will either opt to continue all meeting together, because they find it helpful, or that children may benefit from some individual sessions, which may be shorter or longer, but not more than an hour. 
 
Young children need to be seen with a parent or carer as what is important is for parents to think about how their child understands the death (or not) and what they can do to help their child.
 
Following the initial family meetings we will offer two or three individual sessions with each child within the family.
 
A final family session puts the child back in the family and helps to consolidate work done.
 
 
  
 

  
  
ELIZABETH KOOLE, WINSTON'S CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP

  
During research for her Winston Churchill and her time working alongside others who provide postvention support Liz has learnt that the widely recognised professional experience of those who work in the field of child bereavement is that:

·         Children do want and need to know how someone has died.

·         Families that can talk in an open and honest way without secrets grow together in trust and understanding.

·        As a result of this children grow in maturity and personal understanding and are more able to successfully                    navigate difficult things that happen in the future. In other words they grow into resilient adults, which may                  protect them from some of the research findings that show the detrimental effect a bereavement by suicide                can have on the wellbeing and mental health of a young person.

·        Children who find out about a suicide later in childhood often struggle with issues of trust, anger and identity,               as they try and process their childhood years in the light of the new information.
  



 "Early life experiences can make young people vulnerable, (under 20s) but improving early life experiences through working with families and supporting vulnerable children can decrease their vulnerability"

https://sites.manchester.ac.uk/ncish/reports/suicide-by-children-and-young-people/

  
Children that are bereaved by suicide and left unsupported, are at a higher risk of suicide themselves. Therefore addressing this issue and ensuring there is adequate provision of support for these children is an essential and important part of suicide prevention strategies.

  
https://www.wcmt.org.uk/sites/default/files/report-documents/Koole%20E%20Report%202015%20Revised.pdf  
Reference 1. Holly C. Wilcox, S. Janet Kuramoto, Paul Lichtenstein, Niklas Lanstrom, Bo Runeson and David Brent in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, May 2010. See also Qin, P., Agerbo, E. and Mortenson, P. (2002) ‘Suicide Risk in Relation to family history of completed suicide and psychiatric disorders: a nested case-control study based on longitudinal registers. Lancet 360: 1126-1130

https://www.wcmt.org.uk/sites/default/files/report-documents/Koole%20E%20Report%202015%20Revised.pdf - Wilcox et al 2010
  
  

 

 Get in touch to find out about more.​​

[email protected]

The family support work and events Sunflowers offer are only open to families who are currently living in Gloucestershire and are bereaved by suicide. We regret that we do not have funding or resources to provide this service in other areas.

We do not charge to access this service, but if you wish to donate toward delivery of these, you can do so through our fundraising page, where you will find a DONATE button.


Please also complete our feedback form to help ensure the services we offer are beneficial and enable us to monitor how best to plan in for the future.