After a suicide

Every suicide is a tragedy, and for many people bereaved by suicide, the impact stays with them for the rest of their life.

As a profession with an elevated suicide rate, it’s important that veterinary practices and other workplaces know how to respond if there is a suicide in their practice.  Support should be delivered in a way that helps and supports those bereaved without increasing the risk of further suicides. It is important to recognise that those who have experienced a suicide can feel intense sadness, guilt or anger which can affect their own mental health. In some cases, knowing that someone has died by suicide can lead to others dwelling on the value of their own life.

As well as increasing suicide risk, bereavement by suicide has other profound impacts on those left behind. People bereaved by suicide describe experiencing a range of emotions:

  • shock and disbelief
  • anger, guilt and shame because of the stigma and taboo of suicide
  • anxiety, fear, despair
  • post-traumatic reactions – especially if they found the person after they have died
  • feelings of relief if the person has been suffering for a long time, which in turn can lead to feelings of guilt
  • people can also feel guilty that they have survived whilst the other person has died

There is no right or wrong way to feel in suicide bereavement, and it’s quite normal to experience a range of reactions, sometimes called the stages of grief, at different times. Grief is not linear and people’s reactions can appear to improve and then deteriorate again a number of times before they are able to come to terms with what has happened.

We have produced guidance for veterinary workplaces affected by suicide. It is intended for people affected by the suicide of a veterinary professional, people who support those affected, and for leaders in veterinary workplaces who are working to prevent suicide. Read more here.

While there is growing public awareness that talking about suicide can be a good thing and can create opportunities to help, it’s important to know how we can talk safely and responsibly about this topic online. Vetlife Helpline Manager Dr. Rosie Allister provides guidance for the veterinary community about discussing suicide on social media here.