SOBS National Telephone Hotline (United Kingdom)
By John Peters, M. Suicidology
The aftermath of a suicide is likely to have a traumatic effect of those left behind. We can expect a variety of changing emotions and often a desperate need to find an understanding to the event. The search will be on to answer the impossible questions:
- WHAT IF?
It is likely that the first port of call for the suicide bereaved will be close families, friends, and colleagues. But often these people will be grieving themselves and might not be able to help.
The next place for help may well be the professional agencies– the doctor, the clergy, and the counselor. However, in many cases these professionals do not have the experience to support the suicide bereaved as it is rarely a feature of their training. This may give rise to a feeling of inadequacy on their part. Sharon McDonnell, in the U.K., found that the majority of suicide survivors did not find their general practitioners to have been particularly helpful at their time of grief. The opportunity to refer to more specialized services is limited and often there is a long waiting list for such services.
The suicide bereaved often need to be helped urgently in their grief and will be frustrated if they are not able to access suitable help. In other types of death, support is likely to be readily available, but rarely following a suicide.
Janette McMenamy and her colleagues (2008) looked at what suicide survivors said that they need and found conclusively that survivors felt they were most helped by talking to others who have been bereaved by suicide, either in specialized suicide grief support groups or by talking one-to-one with another suicide survivor.
The question then arises, “How do I find such help?” Suicide is very rarely an event that we can prepare for and know in advance where help can be accessed. Today many will search their computers and also ask funeral directors, clergy, and doctors. Suicide bereavement groups are rarely widely available, particularly in rural areas.
This is where the Telephone Helpline can provide an invaluable form of support. In most cases these suicide bereavement helplines will be manned by volunteers who have themselves been bereaved by suicide and can provide a level of empathy so beneficial to the survivor. For many survivors they can be greatly relieved to find someone else who has been bereaved by suicide.
The Helpline is also likely to be available for at least twelve hours a day and seven days a week and, as it is a telephone contact, it does not matter where the survivor lives. This opportunity to access immediate support on demand can be most supportive. It can take a lot of courage to call a helpline, and to hear someone on the line able to help (and not voicemail) can be a great relief.
The model described above is based on the National Helpline of the U.K. charity Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) and has been very positively received by callers, some of whom call on a number of occasions while others call just once. The volunteer also gives the caller details of support groups local to the caller (if there are any) and other forms of support but the main function is the opportunity to talk to someone who has experienced suicide bereavement and can offer help.
McMenamy, J., Jordan, J.R., & Mitchell, A.M., (2008). What do suicide survivors tell us they need? Results of a pilot study. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 38(4), 375-389.
McDonnell, S. (2010). Unpublished article. Manchester University.
Linn-Gust, M & Peters, J. (2010) A winding road: A handbook for those supporting the suicide bereaved. Chellehead Works. Albuquerque.
For grief after suicide support in the United States call the Friends for Survival Helpline: 1-800-646-7322.
For grief after suicide support in the United Kingdom call Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide: 0844 561 6855.
For grief after suicide support in Australia call the Salvation Army: 1300 467 354.