Attendees welcomed the insights of Dr Sharon McDonnell, Managing Director of Suicide Bereavement UK, who conveyed how suicide bereavement is much more than the ‘ripple effect’ referred to by many researchers.
Dr McDonnell's keynote highlighted the potential of postvention bereavement training to reduce the traumatic impact of suicide bereavement for first responders, their families, and others impacted by suicide deaths.
Dr McDonnell's research recognises the role that first responders play in providing postvention support at suicide deaths. Their response is critical, considering that evidence suggests those bereaved by suicide reportedly experience higher levels of suicide ideation following the death of a loved one.
Providing postvention training for first responders and other health professionals would increase their skills to reduce the traumatic impact of suicide bereavement, Dr McDonnell said. This may contribute to reduced levels of psychological distress and suicide risk in the bereaved.
Dr McDonnell also highlighted the important need for appropriate, timely, postvention support for first responders themselves, to mitigate the psychological distress from exposure to suicide deaths.
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Really useful session now at the #SuicidePrevention21 symposium about first responders (ambulance, police, hospital personnel) who are impacted by exposure to suicide death and attempts as part of their work - and need better support, training and recognition.— Alan Woodward (@alan_woodward1) April 21, 2021
Panel discussion: Postvention and exposure to suicide
The afternoon panel discussion raised further consideration on some of the factors Australia should consider when supporting first responders exposed to suicide. Dr McDonnell joined Graeme Holdsworth (lived experience representative), Leilani Darwin (Black Dog Institute), Nikki Jamieson (University of New England), Dr Karl Andriessen (University of Melbourne) and chair Nick Tebbey (Relationships Australia).
Foremost, the types of first responders who attend suicide deaths was not uniform across Australia and varies greatly between metropolitan and rural areas, among other factors. For smaller communities, the likelihood of a first responder attending a suicide death of someone they know is greatly increased, creating additional distress.
The panel agreed that existing responses offered to families and those at the centre of a suicide death often lack empathy and compassion for the bereaved.
Training for first responders was identified as a priority to increase their capacity and skills in dealing with the traumatic nature of suicide death and the ongoing psychological impact this may have.
There was a sense of agreement among the panel members that communities are open to facilitate discussion to support different services that act as first responders to improve their skills to support their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others in the instance of a suicide death.
The Life in Mind team will be live tweeting the Suicide Prevention Australia 2021 symposium from April 19-22. Follow Life in Mind on Twitter @LifeinMindAU