Forum aims to break stigma of suicide loss
Dr Colleen Carlon and Jacquie Tarrant
As we approach Christmas and the holidays, this is an important time for all of us to be with loved ones, our family and friends. It’s a time of joy and relaxation.
The summer break can give us a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and allow more space to think about the people we have lost.
Talking about and celebrating the people we have lost is important to healthy grief.
For people who have lost a loved one to suicide the process of sharing memories and celebrating the joy of someone’s life may be difficult.
People bereaved by suicide carry a grief that is largely silent.
Working on the South West campus of ECU enabled me to research the ways in which my experience of suicide grief was shaped by the meanings of suicide we have in our communities.
I met Jacquie Tarrant, who is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at St John of God Outreach Service when she was working on an assignment around building community capacity for people bereaved by suicide.
Jacquie has her own experience of loss of a loved one to suicide.
We reflected a lot on all the campaigns, workshops and information that exists to build capacity to prevent suicide, which are so valuable.
However, when suicide does happen, there is a significant lack of support for those left behind and very little guidance on how to compassionately support a person bereaved by suicide.
We wanted to fill this gap.
We know that people bereaved by suicide experience guilt, blame, shame, anger and often feel they must carry this burden in silence.
We also know that people bereaved by suicide may have less help and support than people who have been bereaved by other causes.
People bereaved by suicide often experience prolonged grief where they may become preoccupied with loss, or suffer stress, depression, anxiety or physical difficulties.
Research has shown that the impact of stigma is the main barrier to people reaching out for and receiving support from friends and family.
Central to de-stigmatising is the way we talk about suicide, and the way we don’t talk about suicide, as well as the ways we think about suicide, people who die by suicide, and people bereaved by suicide.
In commemoration of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a community Suicide Bereavement forum will take place in Margaret River on November 18.
It aims to shift this silence by opening up conversations about being bereaved by suicide.
The forum was developed by Jacquie and myself supported by St John of God and Edith Cowan University.
People who participated in 2021 said it gave them new ways of thinking, and supported their healing.
As both Jacquie and I have lost a loved one to suicide, together we weave our personal stories with knowledge from research, published in Australia and internationally, of the experience of being bereaved by suicide.
The upcoming forum in Margaret River aims to give the community a better understanding of the experience of being bereaved by suicide, its long-term nature, the intensity of it and the way that grief, trauma and stigma all become part of that experience.
We hope this forum will raise awareness of these impacts and offer ways to effectively support people bereaved by suicide.
The topics will be beneficial for anyone who has been bereaved by suicide and looking for ways to strengthen their capacity to cope, as well as anyone who has or is currently supporting someone bereaved by suicide.
Conversations with someone bereaved by suicide can be difficult.
People might be nervous because they just don’t know what to do, how to do it, or what to say. So sometimes people say nothing at all.
But there are many ways people can support a loved one, depending on their capacity, ranging from sitting down with the person, to mowing the lawn for them or even baking a cake.
If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to register for this free community event or to call either Jacquie or myself to discuss further.
We encourage people bereaved by suicide and their supporters, their family, friends or work colleagues as well as human service workers to come along.
Dr Colleen Carlon works on the South West campus of ECU as a teacher and researcher.
Jacquie Tarrant is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at St John of God Outreach Service and is a member of MMR’s Professional Liaison Team. St John of God has been a supporter of MMR since its inception in 2019.
The Suicide Bereavement forum is on Friday November 18 from 9:30am to 3:00pm at Margaret River HEART.
Recommended 18+ event. Anyone 15+ is welcome to attend in the company of a trusted adult. Register to attend via suicidebereavement.eventbrite.com.au
Mindful Margaret River is funded by Lotterywest and supported by the Shire of Augusta Margaret River. You can find out more on our website mindfulmargarteriver.org.au and follow us on Facebook.
First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 22 November 2022.