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‘Changing way society talks is first step to breaking suicide stigma’

Suzy Clifford, who set up the Suffolk branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide  Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suzy Clifford, who set up the Suffolk branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide Picture: GREGG BROWN

The founder of a peer support group for those bereaved by suicide has urged people to think carefully about language used to discuss the subject.

Suzy Clifford’s husband, Len, developed psychological issues after suffering a brain injury in a car accident taking his life three years later, in 2009.

“All grief carries guilt, but suicide loss has a specific brand of guilt, which stems from the idea we should have prevented the preventable,”said Suzy, from Bury St Edmunds, speaking for Suicide Prevention Day this week.

“Having failed to protect our loved one, survivors can believe they are flawed and have done something wrong.”

The Suffolk branch of Survivors of Bereavement in Suicide (SoBS) was set up in 2012 offering a flexible and comprehensive service to adult survivors, with phone or email support when needed.

Groups have been set up in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Ipswich, with a website developed and maintained by survivors at suffolk-sobs.org.uk.

“We are not affiliated to any political organisation and will continue to open new groups if, or when, clear evidence suggests a need,” said Suzy.

“We also work alongside Suffolk police, and our work is supported and recognised by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.”

Suzy and her team of campaign against the phrase ‘committed suicide’ and suggest it should be replaced with ‘died by suicide’.

“Arguably, the term ‘committed suicide’ judges both the person who has died and can judge those left behind,” she said.

“I was five weeks post-suicide when someone approached me and said ‘I’ve heard your husband committed suicide. He is a coward and should be ashamed of himself’.

“Those words could have acted as a trigger when I was still at high risk of suicide myself.”

Suzy and her team also want suicide loss recognised as a psychological trauma distinct from other grief, due to it being rarely responsive to time limited therapy and a ‘one fit for all’ approach.

“Changing the way society talks about suicide is the first step to breaking the stigma and shame surrounding this subject,” she said.

“Ultimately, we are asking society to show equal compassion for suicide as they would for a physical terminal illness.”

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