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Ian Hulatt: bereavement by suicide is a distinctive kind of loss

People who have lost a loved one to suicide need to be treated with skill and compassion, says the RCN's Ian Hulatt.
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People who have lost a loved one to suicide need to be treated with particular skill and compassion, says the RCN's Ian Hulatt.

For many of us, it can be difficult to understand how a person could want to take their own life.

On the other hand, those of us who have been in nursing long enough know that for some people, the trials of life can be overwhelming.

When a hospital is full of people striving to stay alive, often in very adverse circumstances, it can be difficult to empathise with someone who decides to discard life. Perhaps this is why people who have tried to take their own life are often viewed with hostility.

Trying to deter someone from suicidal behaviour or keep them

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People who have lost a loved one to suicide need to be treated with particular skill and compassion, says the RCN's Ian Hulatt.


Helping someone come to terms with bereavment by suicide requires
understanding and compassion. Picture: Getty Images

For many of us, it can be difficult to understand how a person could want to take their own life.

On the other hand, those of us who have been in nursing long enough know that for some people, the trials of life can be overwhelming.

When a hospital is full of people striving to stay alive, often in very adverse circumstances, it can be difficult to empathise with someone who decides to discard life. Perhaps this is why people who have tried to take their own life are often viewed with hostility. 

Trying to deter someone from suicidal behaviour or keep them safe until such an impulse fades can be challenging work, but drawing on previous experience can make us more understanding. And that might place us a million miles away from those who are personally close to the person who has committed suicide. 

Real sense of care

While we may hope that such experiences of pain and loss will remain a stranger to us, we may be called upon to be with bereaved people during this painful time.

Loss following a death caused by illness can appear natural, and it often reminds us of our own mortality.

To be bereaved by suicide remains a distinctive kind of loss, and the difficulties engaging with a person in this situation remain huge.

A nurse in this position needs a high standard of skill and compassion, mediated by a real and felt sense of care. May we all be able to meet such a need.


About the author 

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Ian Hulatt is RCN mental health adviser  

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