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Pilot suicide bereavement support service launched in Scotland

This news post is 12 months old

The new service will work closely with families to ensure they have the support they need

A new pilot project is aiming to provide tailored support to families affected by suicide.

Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG) has launched a pilot service to support families bereaved by suicide.

Established by the Scottish Government, NSPLG brings together people with lived experience of suicide alongside, academic, third sector, and statutory partners to support the delivery of Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters.

One key action in the plan is delivering support to families bereaved by suicide. The Scottish Government is providing funding of £510,000 for the pilot service which will provide practical and emotional support to families who have lost a loved one to suicide, for up to two years.

The service is also intended to help reduce suicide, as evidence shows that up to 10% of people bereaved by suicide may go on to attempt to take their own lives.

Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland, two of Scotland’s leading mental health charities, are working in partnership to deliver the services across two health board areas, NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Highland.

The new service will operate seven days a week; it will make initial contact with bereaved families within 24 hours of a referral and specially trained bereavement support workers will provide customised support relevant to each family’s circumstances.

These highly trained staff will be able to recognise potential risks or wider safeguarding issues, including signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and will also be able to work collaboratively across other local services. Together this joined-up approach will ensure a package of support is offered to families during this extremely difficult time.

 The service will be independently reviewed to learn how best to support families bereaved by suicide. The evaluation will also help inform future planning of bereavement support services.

 Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland already support about 3,300 people every week, and have experience of working in projects such as the Scottish Government’s Distress Brief Intervention Programme (DBI) and Edinburgh’s Thrive initiative. 

Seonaid Stallan lost her son and sister in law to suicide within weeks of each other. She has worked on the scoping and design of the new pilot service.  She said: “Five years ago, I lost my 18-year-old son, Dylan to suicide. It is impossible to describe the devastation, grief and confusion that we felt as a family.

“There was no support offered to families in our position and we relied on each other and close friends to try and navigate the complex practical arrangements as well as our own grief.

“Just three weeks later, my sister in-law Vanessa, took her own life. No one had ever asked us how we were coping.

“This service offers a vital lifeline for families bereaved by suicide and may even save lives.”

Mental health charity, Penumbra, manages the service in Ayrshire and Arran. The charity’s area manager Issy Murray commented: “Working alongside people affected by suicide including, Jenn and Seonaid, has been crucial in the creation of this new service. Each person's experience of being bereaved by suicide will be different. Our person led approach will mean we're able to tailor support for each person and provide a unique and compassionate space for people.”

Frances Simpson, chief executive of Support in Mind Scotland, said: “Losing a loved one to suicide brings pain and trauma beyond words, and we know that people who have been bereaved need compassion, understanding and specialist practical support, not just in the immediate aftermath, but for many months after.  Support in Mind Scotland is proud to be part of this vital new service and will work closely with our partners in Penumbra to make sure every bereaved person knows that they are not alone and that they receive the help they need, when they need it.”

NSPLG chair Rose Fitzpatrick CBE said: “No suicide should ever be considered inevitable, but each family that loses a loved one to suicide is left bereft and in need of significant, specialist, support.

“We are confident that this new service, being piloted in Ayrshire and Arran and in Highland with our partners Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland, will provide critically important support to people bereaved by suicide when they really need it.”

Kevin Stewart MSP, minister for mental wellbeing and social care, said: “Losing someone close through suicide is devastating, and causes extreme pain for their loved ones. Often those bereaved are left with unanswered questions and unresolved issues on top of dealing with their grief. I am pleased that the Scottish Government, as part of our work to deliver on our Suicide Prevention Action Plan, is funding this crucial pilot service to support those bereaved by suicide.”



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