What not to say to someone bereaved by suicide (and what to try instead)

Supporting someone bereaved by suicide is really difficult. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing and hurt them even more. Even healthcare professionals find it exceptionally hard, but at least they have training courses to help them. (Well, some do.)

Empathy Media made 3 training videos for UK professionals, fostering active learning. Each video dramatises an encounter showing what – or what not – to say. These videos are now made available here as a contribution to public learning.

Everyone who supports someone living through this most painful of losses wants to make it better. But their wound is one we can’t heal. We can’t make it better. All we can do is not make it worse.

Because every bereaved person is different, there can’t be a template of perfect, ready-made responses. Instead the videos indicate a general approach based on:

  • respect for the bereaved and the uniqueness of their experience
  • laced with practical information
  • underlining the need for mindful self-awareness when offering support.

Part 1 – Breaking the News

The first video portrays an inexperienced professional clumsily breaking the terrible news to a bereaved family member. As you flinch at his errors, you can imagine better options of your own.

A Learning Points document is here, underlining the key points.

Part 2 – Follow up two weeks later

The second video shows a more experienced health professional on a follow-up visit offering immediate, practical advice, as well as listening closely to the bereaved person’s unique experience of bereavement.

A Learning Points document is here, underlining the key points.

Part 3 – Longer term support

The third video is of the same health professional on a later visit. The training is not designed to bolster a professional’s defences against the layers of pain they may encounter, but rather to learn to be present with the bereaved in an open, empathic and mindful way.

A Learning Points document is here, underlining the key points.


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