The support needs of people bereaved by suicide in later life : a comparative thematic analysis of older adults and professionals' perspectives

Cogan, Nicola and Hanna, Jeffrey and Hafford-Letchfield, Trish and Rasmussen, Susan and Grant, Evan and Goodman, Jolie and Ryder-Davies, Lesley (2023) The support needs of people bereaved by suicide in later life : a comparative thematic analysis of older adults and professionals' perspectives. In: Trinity Health and Education International Research Conference 2023 (THEconf2023), 2023-02-07 - 2023-02-09, Trinity College.

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Aim and objectives of the study: Suicide is often a traumatic death that can significantly impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those bereaved. Effective and timely support following a bereavement by suicide can help facilitate coping and adjustment. However, little research has explored the support needs of older people who have been bereaved by suicide in later life. This study aimed to explore and compare the perspectives of older adults and health and social care professionals' (HSCPs) in understanding the support needs of those bereaved by suicide in later life. Method: Participatory methods were adopted and semi-structured interviews were conducted with older adults (n = 24) and HSCPs (n = 14) working in a range of bereavement support and suicide prevention services. Qualitative data was analysed using a reflexive thematic approach to compare older adults and professionals' perspectives. Ethical approval was sought and granted from the University Ethics Committee. Findings: The themes developed were: (1) Acknowledging and validating the traumatic impact of bereavement by suicide, (2) Navigating and struggling through the grief (the importance of support networks), (3) 'It’s not your fault': addressing self-blame, guilt and the need for a compassionate dialogue, (4) A 'it's a hot potato': others perceived as better equipped in meeting older adults' support needs (undervaluing and stereotyping older adults), (5) The need to recognise diverse older adults' experiences of bereavement by suicide (gaps in service provision). Conclusion and impact: Findings highlighted common challenges and support needs with other age groups as well as specific issues in relation to later life, such as feeling less valued compared to younger people, or having fewer opportunities to talk about grief experiences; impacted by factors such as stigma, ageist stereotyping, self-blame, shame and dealing with the taboo of suicide. The need to promote open, honest and compassionate communication about bereavement by suicide in later life is emphasised. Clearer pathways of support need to be established among health and social care organisations to ensure timely psychosocial care and support for those most vulnerable.