About Help is at Hand

About Help is at Hand

When you first discover that someone close to you has died by suicide or their death is unexpected and unexplained, you will probably experience a range of emotions and physical sensations. Sometimes it is clear that a relative or friend’s death is suicide, but often it is not. Uncertainty may arise from the death being completely unexpected or because of the way in which the person died, for example by drowning or drug overdose. 

This guide is aimed at the wide range of people who are affected by suicide or unexplained death. It aims to help people who are unexpectedly bereaved in this way. It also provides information for healthcare and other professionals who come into contact with bereaved people, to assist them in providing help and to suggest how they themselves may find support if they need it. 

Bereavement after suicide can be particularly difficult to cope with, and many people who are bereaved in this way find it hard to get the help they need. Thousands of people die by suicide every year in England and Wales. Some self-inflicted deaths receive a coroner’s conclusion of suicide, but many are given an open conclusion or some other cause of death. It has been estimated that at least six people are deeply affected by each such death. These include:

  • Parents
  • Partners
  • Children
  • Siblings
  • Friends
  • Work colleagues
  • Teachers
  • Healthcare professionals

Beliefs and customs concerning death and mourning differ among faith and cultural groups, and this will influence an individual’s experience of bereavement. This guide aims to explain some of the common practical and emotional issues that might affect people who are bereaved in this way. 

Some parts of the guide will be useful immediately after the death, while others may be of help in the weeks and months that follow. Healthcare and other professionals such as coroner’s officers, police, funeral directors and bereavement counsellors are encouraged to advise bereaved people how to make use of this guide. 

Professionals can help by directing people to key sections in this guide and particularly the organisations and materials included as sources of support and information. 


In 2011 the National Advisory Group on Suicide and Self-harm Prevention to the Welsh Government, chaired by Public Health Wales, tasked itself with creating a Wales and Welsh version of Help is at Hand, a resource for people bereaved by suicide or other sudden traumatic death. 

The original guide was developed by Professor Keith Hawton and Sue Simkin at the Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford, in collaboration with an advisory group. It was first published in 2006, supported by funding from the Department of Health, and drew on a bereavement pack previously developed by the Centre and published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. We are indebted to all those who helped in the development of the guide and this version is little changed to that original document, but incorporates suggestions from the evaluation of the resource and comments from the Wales National Advisory Group. 

Members of the advisory group who contributed to this Wales version include representatives from the Samaritans, Papyrus, MIND Cymru, Welsh Government, Cruse Bereavement Care, All Wales Spirituality and Mental Health Special Interest Group and Public Health Wales. Special thanks go to Ann John, Sian Price, Phill Chick, Alan Briscoe and Dean Piper for their contributions and to Public Health Wales for funding the project. 

This version (2016) was updated by Ann John, Karen Evans, Sian Price and Kat Lacey, translated by Helen Daniels (all at Swansea University) and funded by Welsh Government. 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0. June 2016