One in five people affected by suicide express thoughts of self-harm

Survey finds more than half of people bereaved by suicide have poor mental health, depression and anxiety

One in five people who have suffered a bereavement or been affected by suicide have themselves expressed recent thoughts of self-harm or suicide, a new survey has found.

In the first-of-its-kind survey on the impact of suicide on people, researchers found that among 2,413 adults affected by suicide, more than half, or 56 per cent, reported poor mental wellbeing and symptoms of depression and anxiety, which was twice the level in the national population.

The survey conducted by the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF), in collaboration with the suicide bereavement charity HUGG (Healing Untold Grief Groups), found that poor mental wellbeing was most pronounced among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

The findings of the National Suicide Bereavement Survey, are published today to coincide with World Mental Health Week.


The survey aimed to create a national profile of the impact of suicide bereavement and the needs of the estimated 60,000 people affected by suicide every year. This estimate is based on international research on the ripple effect on people from the 500 to 550 suicides a year in Ireland.

“This is the first time that anybody in Ireland has been asked: how have you been affected by suicide and how has it affected your life and have you got support?” said Fiona Tuomey, the founder and chief executive of HUGG.

The high percentage of people expressing thoughts of self-harm or suicide after being affected by suicide was cited as a concern by researchers. Ms Tuomey said that it was “shocking but not surprising because suicide bereavement isn’t something that goes away”.

Dr Eve Griffin, who led the research for the NSRF, said the findings were “quite stark” in showing the “complex, wide-ranging and enduring impacts” of suicide on people’s mental health.

“We now have up-to-date evidence of the impacts suicide can have and it provides really strong justification to develop specialised and tailor supports,” she said.

The survey found most participants who had been affected by suicide bereavement in their lives, some 62 per cent, had lost a family member or partner to suicide, while half of those surveyed, some 54 per cent, had experienced multiple bereavements from suicide.

A significant proportion experienced the loss of friends, colleagues or as part of their work as a first responder, such as a member of the Garda or as a healthcare worker.

Common grief experiences reported by participants included expressions of guilt, feelings of perceived stigma and shame, and searching for an explanation for the death.

A third of participants did not access any supports following their loss. Formal supports were accessed to a lesser extent by men or people experiencing suicide through a professional role.

Two-thirds of participants felt the quality of services in their area was poor and common barriers to accessing support included lack of awareness, availability, waiting times and cost.

Ms Tuomey said there was a “patchwork” of support offered in response to suicide and that suicide received a “very different public debate” from other tragedies experienced in society.

“It is bottom of the list when it comes to conversation and it is a conversation that people are very uncomfortable having,” she said.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, please text HELLO to 50808, or contact the Samaritans at free phone 116123 or email or the Irish Hospice Foundation Bereavement Support Line at freephone 1800 807 077

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent