Mental health service staff

Psychiatric illness is common in people who die by suicide, so they have often been under the care of mental health services. 

It is important that, where possible, mental health services staff contact the family of the person who has died as soon as they can. Allow them time to ask questions and express their feelings. 

Sometimes it can help family and friends if staff are open about their own feelings about the loss, as this may help them talk about their own. Sometimes staff may wish to attend the funeral or send cards of condolence, and this is often welcomed by the family. Let them know how they can reach you and ask if they would like further contact. 

It is essential to tell the GP of the person who has died at the earliest opportunity. Staff may wish to discuss a plan to help and support the family. The doctor is likely to want to be involved and may have views on what will be most helpful to the relatives. 

Sometimes family or friends may feel angry and critical of the care received by the person who died. If this is the case, it might be appropriate to have a meeting between the family and the clinical team, facilitated by someone not immediately involved with the care of the person who died. 

The death of a patient by suicide can also affect anyone in the clinical team that was involved in a patient’s care and can lead to feelings of, for example, failure, guilt or betrayal. You may even be blamed by the patient’s relatives. It is important to remember that even the most competent therapist cannot always prevent suicide and that most mental illnesses bring with them a greatly increased risk of suicide. A staff meeting should be arranged to discuss the death, where colleagues can support each other and express their emotions. 

Many health boards hold critical incident meetings aimed at learning from the experience – rather than blaming anyone – and identifying possible improvements to patient care which could prevent similar incidents in the future. 

The local coroner will usually request a report from the clinicians involved in a patient’s care and may also ask staff to attend the inquest. These experiences can be stressful for the staff involved, so having support at such times is essential. 

Any staff member needing support should try talking to a trusted colleague who has had a similar experience. Most health boards provide help for staff affected by patient suicide, recognising that it is traumatic, particularly for those who find the body or are subject to criticism by relatives. 

Other patients, especially in an inpatient or group setting, may be more vulnerable after a suicide and should be given an opportunity to talk about their feelings with staff as soon as possible after the death. They should also be given advice on how to get further support if they need it. 

SSHP Wales is for anyone looking for training and development opportunities that can help them, their communities, or their workforces, to develop their awareness, understanding and skills in relation to the management and prevention of suicide and self harm.