Understanding the impact of attempted suicide on families

Published 12 December 2017

In the immediate aftermath of a suicide attempt, there is one person of primary concern. But as the days, months and even years roll by, the event has the capacity to impact the lives of many.

“Caring for a loved one who has attempted suicide can be characterised by shifting senses of hopefulness and hopelessness, which can go on for a long time,” said Dr Sarah Wayland, a mental health social worker and post-doctoral research fellow with the UNE’s School of Health.

“Some family and friends may feel they are on the sidelines, and don’t have the opportunity to share their experiences or to express their own unique needs.”

But that’s about to change, with Dr Wayland and Professor Myfanwy Maple embarking on a landmark Australian study in partnership with SANE Australia to explore the impact on carers supporting someone after a suicide attempt.

“The research team is interested in understanding the physical, emotional, psychological and even financial impact on carers, so that we might improve our policies and practices to support them,” she said.

“The number of people affected across Australia is significant and the needs of carers are valid.”

More than 3200 Australians are known to die by suicide each year, and for every death by suicide, Lifeline estimates there are as many as 30 attempts.

Appropriate care following a suicide attempt has been estimated to reduce future death by suicide by 1-19%, which places significant responsibility on carers.

However, there has been little to document the kind of support required by carers or the impact caring can have on their own health and wellbeing.

“Support for a person who has attempted suicide might take the form of supportive conversations, providing physical assistance or even practical help to attend medical appointments,” Dr Wayland said.

“Carers are not always family members, making this study important in terms of identifying who it is that is offering support.

“Sometimes the stigma around suicide can limit a carer’s capacity to ask for help. People anecdotally report that they are silenced by community perceptions or the need to observe confidentiality. Our research team is keen to understand and ease the potential burden of care.”

The first stage of the joint research project between SANE Australia and the UNE School of Health is an online survey of carers. This will be followed by face-to-face interviews and the development and evaluation of resources (including publications and training) that could provide more effective support.

“I hope our findings will be used to inform service providers and policy-makers and, more importantly, help families and individuals impacted by a suicide attempt,” Dr Wayland said.

For more information about the study or to access the survey visit here.