Learning about the death of a colleague through suicide is a particularly shocking experience. It's something that relatively few of us will encounter in our working lives. For those who do, though, it can be bewildering and unsettling - the impact of the event stirring up a range of emotions and reactions throughout teams, departments and organisations.
Bereavement by suicide is considered to be different to other forms of bereavement. This is because it tends to be sudden and unexpected, and because suicide is often violent in nature. All of these factors mean bereavement by suicide has the potential to be experienced as traumatic. In the wake of a suicide, interventions will need to be made by the emergency services, police and sometimes the media - creating a presence that can feel intrusive, and an atmosphere that is often experienced as intense. This can make it hard for those left behind to take in what's happened and to start to grieve. Investigations, of course, have to take place after a suicide. However, it can feel like a long time before key facts are released – often leaving those who knew the person who died speculating in sometimes disturbing ways about how it happened. The question of why the person took their own life is also likely to remain unanswered, at least fully - meaning others will often wonder and ask if they could have done anything different that might have prevented the death. Unfortunately, stigma and misconception still mean suicide is rarely spoken about in the way that other types of loss are - so the bereaved can often experience these difficult thoughts, questions and feelings in isolation.
FD Consultants can provide support for organisations where an employee has ended their life through suicide. Common, and quite normal, early responses and experiences amongst remaining staff include:
As with any type of bereavement, those who knew the person who died will have their own unique way of coming to terms with the loss - with much depending on the nature of the relationship they had with that individual, and their own personal history and resources. For staff members who have lost a colleague to suicide, making use of their own support network in order to talk and express emotions will count for a lot in the early stages, as will taking care of their general wellbeing - for example, trying to retain healthy patterns of sleep, diet and exercise, and avoiding heavy use of alcohol or other substances. Over time, particularly once an inquest and a funeral have taken place (two important events that can help establish key facts about the death and provide others with the opportunity to 'say goodbye'), colleagues will often find their own way of integrating what has happened and moving forward. Talking and finding ways of commemorating the person who died within the workplace is generally helpful – examples might include laying flowers in a special place for them, organising an event in their memory, or making sure they continue to be mentioned in connection to any significant aspects of the organisations work that they contributed to.
Whilst all these things can make a difference, bereavement through suicide can leave an especially difficult legacy. Individual psychological consultations - perhaps in the form of an individual trauma consultation and potentially ongoing counselling - may be beneficial to any staff members who find the early responses and experiences listed above to be persistent or sufficiently intense over a period of several months as to impact negatively on their day-to-day life. Other factors that may warrant more specialised support include:
Organisations may also benefit from external consultation and support in managing a staff suicide - particularly if work was felt to be a factor in an individual's decision to take their own life. This bespoke type of assistance, provided by FD Consultants, can help managers and team-leaders with matters such as:
Please make contact if the issues discussed in this blog entry lead you to believe FD Consultants may be able to assist you or your organisation following a suicide at work. There are also many resources available online if you have been affected by any of the issues highlighted in this blog:
Additional literature that may be helpful:
If someone close to you has been bereaved or affected by suicide, it may be helpful to start off by considering what might make their loss or experience feel different, and then to hold certain things in mind when speaking to that person and to others. This fact sheet provides relevant information, and also details of where those bereaved or affected by suicide can access further support.
If you, or your organisation, need any support or help with the topics covered in this blog please do get in touch with us today.
MBACP (Accred), MA Counselling & Psychotherapy