What are the physical and psychological health effects of suicide bereavement on family members? An observational and interview mixed-methods study in Ireland

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Spillane, Ailbhe
Matvienko-Sikar, Karen
Larkin, Celine
Corcoran, Paul
Arensman, Ella
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Objectives: Research focussing on the impact of suicide bereavement on family members’ physical and psychological health is scarce. The aim of this study was to examine how family members have been physically and psychologically affected following suicide bereavement. A secondary objective of the study was to describe the needs of family members bereaved by suicide. Design: A mixed-methods study was conducted, using qualitative semistructured interviews and additional quantitative self-report measures of depression, anxiety and stress (DASS-21). Setting: Consecutive suicide cases and next-of-kin were identified by examining coroner’s records in Cork City and County, Ireland from October 2014 to May 2016. Participants: Eighteen family members bereaved by suicide took part in a qualitative interview. They were recruited from the Suicide Support and Information System: A Case-Control Study (SSIS-ACE), where family members bereaved by suicide (n=33) completed structured measures of their well-being. Results: Qualitative findings indicated three superordinate themes in relation to experiences following suicide bereavement: (1) co-occurrence of grief and health reactions; (2) disparity in supports after suicide and (3) reconstructing life after deceased’s suicide. Initial feelings of guilt, blame, shame and anger often manifested in enduring physical, psychological and psychosomatic difficulties. Support needs were diverse and were often related to the availability or absence of informal support by family or friends. Quantitative results indicated that the proportion of respondents above the DASS-21 cut-offs respectively were 24% for depression, 18% for anxiety and 27% for stress. Conclusions: Healthcare professionals’ awareness of the adverse physical and psychosomatic health difficulties experienced by family members bereaved by suicide is essential. Proactively facilitating support for this group could help to reduce the negative health sequelae. The effects of suicide bereavement are wide-ranging, including high levels of stress, depression, anxiety and physical health difficulties.
Family , Suicide , Grief , Bereavement
Spillane, A., Matvienko-Sikar, K., Larkin, C., Corcoran, P. and Arensman, E. (2018) 'What are the physical and psychological health effects of suicide bereavement on family members? An observational and interview mixed-methods study in Ireland', BMJ Open, 8(1), e019472 (12pp). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019472
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