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World Suicide Prevention Day: A service that helps those left behind

Suzy Clifford, chief executive of HOPE After Suicide Loss, knows first hand the tragedy of losing someone close to her by suicide.

In June 2009, her life was changed forever when she returned home to find that her husband, Len, had taken his own life, at the age of 59.

Suzy said: “We had not no idea he was suicidal, I suddenly found myself in deep shock, I was traumatised and when I tested the system I realised there was nothing out there that responded to my needs.

The first meet and greet session of HOPE After Suicide Loss in Bury St Edmunds.
The first meet and greet session of HOPE After Suicide Loss in Bury St Edmunds.

“Suicide loss is a psychological trauma, and time-limited or prescriptive services are not ideal.

“So, I decided to get involved and develop a professional, peer led service that offers open ended support that will respond to the trauma as well as allowing individuals to be the author of their own recovery.”

Suzy set up her first Suffolk suicide bereavement service in March 2012, with a second group in Ipswich in 2013, and Lowestoft the following year.

The three groups then became part of a full service provided by HOPE which was launched in February 2019.

She said: “I wanted to develop a more local and professional service delivered by people who have been profoundly affected by suicide themselves and will therefore speak the same language as our survivors.”

HOPE provides a tailor-made 24/7 free service to alleviate isolation, support survivors as they process their loss and developtheir own coping mechanisms.

HOPE is also keen to raise awareness about using negative language surrounding suicide.

Suzy said: “Initially, we offer survivors one-to-one phone support, which focusses on their story. When they feel they are strong enough they can then become part of a group settingand work through topics related to suicide loss.

“We find HOPE's peer-led approach is very powerful for people but trauma is a notorious roller-coaster, so if a survivorhits a brick wall or may experience a trigger during their own recovery, we can change their care plan to reflect their changing needs.”

One of the main concerns Suzy and the service has for those dealing with this type of loss is that society will sometimes believe suicide loss is no different to general bereavement, which is not the case at all.

She said: “This psychological trauma is complex, it feels like you are on a hamster wheel and you have become a forensic detective desperate to make sense of the senseless. Survivors often feel they should have prevented the preventable and will torment themselves endlessly for many months or years following their loss.

“Ultimately a survivor can become their own judge and jury and believe they deserve to be punished because they are flawed .This is when survivors can adopt suicidal ideology and be at risk of a secondary suicide .”

HOPE is entirely self-funded, but due to covid restrictions on conducting its face to face group meetings, its normal source of income completely dried up.

But help was at hand thanks to the Suffolk Community Foundation’s Rebuilding Local Lives Appeal backed by Ed Sheeran and generous donators.

Suzy said: “Being from Framlingham and one of us if you like he gave money to the appeal and we applied for part of its emergency funding.

“They immediately came through and on top of that people have still been donating even though they could not leave their doorsteps- we just cannot begin to thank them all enough, they have all kept us afloat through the crisis.”

Suzy hopes in the future to be able to expand the service to Norfolk, but on a larger scale, feels the wider community should also be playing a bigger part in helping the issue too.

She said: “Before my own loss I had no idea the hurdles survivors had to overcome and I probably thought that after a year they would be able to move on, but that is almost impossible for most to do, which often leaves them feeling isolated, under pressure and misunderstood.

“The mental health side of it also needs to be looked at further. For example I feel GPs need to identify in the first instance if someone is mildly shocked by a suicide or if someone is profoundly affected, as in that first year some people are really struggling to stay afloat.

"We must rethink and invest in mental health of this kind, helping people who may have mental health issues dealing with a suicide sometimes is not a short term fix and recovery is never a straight path, so we need services that respond and invest effectively for the long term or we could be putting people at risk."

With things such as World Suicide Prevention Day, Suzy hopes it will get more people talking about the subject and the effects on those left behind.

Also she hopes it will get people who are suffering a loss alone to get the assistance and support that they may need.

Suzy said: “I would say to anybody who has been bereaved by suicide, is still troubled and has never processed their loss, it does not matter if it was this year, five years or 20 years ago they need to pick up the phone.

“It takes a lot of courage and a lot of people feel they may be judged, but survivors at HOPE will not judge but respect any fellow survivor that takes this difficult, first step. So I encourage them to pick up the phone.”

For more details on HOPE and the service they provide, go to hopeaftersuicideloss.org.uk .

To find out how the service has helped one of its users, read tomorrow's Bury Free Press.