Mental and physical health of people bereaved by suicide should be assessed, study finds

By Olivia Kelleher

Doctors must prioritise assessing the mental and physical health problems among those bereaved by suicide, according to the Chief Scientist at the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF).

Family members bereaved by suicide have elevated levels of depression, anxiety and stress, and are at increased risk of adverse physical health conditions, said Professor Ella Arensman after the publication of new NSRF-UCC research.

“This research underlines the importance of increasing awareness among health and mental health professionals to prioritise assessment and early identification of mental health and physical health problems among people bereaved by suicide.”

The new research comprised a systematic review of 24 studies worldwide and in-depth interviews with 18 family members bereaved by suicide in Ireland.

Of family members bereaved by suicide, 24%, 18% and 27% had elevated levels of depression, anxiety and stress respectively, the new study shows.

They also experienced other psychological problems including panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, intrusive images, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Family members bereaved by suicide are also at an increased risk of adverse physical health conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to the research findings. They also experienced more physical health complaints, physical illnesses and physical pain.

Considering these health difficulties, family members expressed a need for adequate formal and informal support.

Family members face challenges including difficulty in accessing formal support services due to grief reactions, being unsure where to access such support and not having the financial means to pay for such support, the research found.

Ailbhe Spillane, who conducted the research, said: “Since we now know the main physical and mental health problems experienced after suicide bereavement, we need to prioritise high-quality support services, without restricting such services because of financial constraints."

Anyone who is impact by such issues is asked to contact Suicide Support and Information: Suicidesupportandinformation.ie Aware or the Samaritans .

The Samaritans can be reached at Freephone: 116 123; text: 087 2 60 90 90 (standard text rates apply) or e-mail jo@samaritans.ie

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