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Development of an Armed Forces Suicide Bereavement Pack

Status: Completed

Research Team

Dr Sharon McDonnell (Chief Investigator)1,2

Co-Investigators: Dr Pauline Nelson1 , Angela Samata1 Liz Koole

1 Suicide Bereavement UK  2 University of Manchester  

Background

When someone dies by suicide during or after their military service, there are particular challenges faced by the relatives, friends and colleagues left behind. In addition to the risk of further suicide of individuals bereaved by suicide and the complicated grief that can be experienced, research outside the UK indicates that people may struggle with stigma, losing a way of life and with the demands of military death inquiries/media interest. The Armed Forces Covenant aims to remove disadvantage and ensure that the Armed Forces community, including their families receive the same support as the civilian community. However, there is little understanding of the needs of Armed Forces relatives, friends and colleagues bereaved by suicide in the UK, including civilian next-of-kin – for example parents of serving/ex-service personnel who may have died by suicide. This study aimed to learn from and build on what is already in place (in the UK and overseas) in a civilian and Armed Forces environment. 

Aim

We aimed to 1) identify the experiences and needs of individuals bereaved by the suicide of a family member, colleague/ex-colleague, or friend during or after the person’s military service and 2) co-produce an evidence-informed suicide bereavement pack to support bereaved individuals.  

Methods

In Phase 1 we conducted in-depth interviews with relatives, friends and colleagues who had lost an important person by suicide during or after the person’s military service to identify their experiences and needs. We also identified and collated existing sources of support available to anyone bereaved by the suicide of a family member, colleague/ex-colleague or friend during or after the person’s service life.

In Phase 2 we developed an Armed Forces suicide bereavement pack based on insights gathered from Phase 1, consisting of guides written for different groups.

Results

Participants were 30 relatives, friends and colleagues bereaved by suicide aged 19-63 years at time of their loss. Nineteen were male, 11 female. Thirteen were serving at the time of their loss and 6 were ex-service (they spanned a range of ranks). Eleven were family members (spouses, parents, siblings, adult children). We captured experiences related to the Army, Navy and RAF. The people who had died either during or after their military service ranged from the lowest ranks to senior commissioned officers.

Interviews informed the content/development of three At Your Side guides tailored for specific groups:

At Your Side Guide 1: Serving Personnel

At Your Side Guide 2: Ex-service Personnel

At Your Side Guide 3: Families

Funding

NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Armed Forces Commissioning team.

MoD Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was obtained from MoD Research Ethics Committee (MODREC), reference 2090/MODREC/21.

Outputs

Main anticipated outputs:

  • An evidence-informed suicide bereavement pack consisting of At Your Side Guides 1, 2 and 3
  • a research paper to disseminate findings
  • oral presentation of findings to different audiences i.e., MoD, military charities and other armed forces groups; NHS and academic audiences

Impact

This study will help empower relatives, friends and colleagues bereaved by the suicide of a significant person who died during or after their military service. It will also empower those who support these individuals to ensure they are:

  • made aware of help available
  • supported to seek help and remain engaged in services at a time of high risk and intense need. 

For more information please contact: 

Dr Sharon McDonnell sharon.mcdonnell@suicidebereavementuk.com

Tel: 01706 827359