Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Lisbeth Pike

Second Supervisor

Dr Andrew Guilfoyle


Suicide remains a leading cause of death in Australia. Consequently, a considerable proportion of the population is, or will be, bereaved due to suicide. These individuals are referred to as survivors of suicide. Literature suggests bereavement is a significant risk factor for adverse health outcomes. The question of whether or not bereavement after suicide, as opposed to other modes of death, renders individuals more susceptible to enduring and complicated grief reactions remains unclear. Numerous key variables have been found to influence the nature, intensity and duration of the grief process. Variables that are likely to be associated with poor bereavement outcome are considered risk factors. There appear to be a greater prevalence of individual and contextual risk factors leading to complicated bereavement for survivors of suicide, as opposed to those bereaved through most other modes of death. In attempts to limit the potential deleterious effects of bereavement due to suicide, attention has primarily focussed on the role of more distal factors, such as the benefits of support groups, However, trauma-related research and survivors' anecdotal reports emphasise the potential for proximal factors and specific experiences in the immediate aftermath of a suicide to facilitate or complicate bereavement. The impact of such factors remains largely overlooked in the context of suicide, despite representing important and crucial opportunities for secondary prevention efforts with survivors. The initial aims of the present study were to explore participants' experiences in the time following a suicide, determine the existence of any experiences which participants believe, to have impacted on their respective bereavement and grieving processes, and to highlight any areas of service provision or support which participants deemed as weaknesses and through which improvement efforts can be directed, A qualitative methodological approach was utilised in this exploratory study. Forty-four bereaved family members participated in a free narrative and guided conversation that focussed on their post-suicide experiences. In attempts to gain a better understanding of relevant procedural and legal requirements, as well as education and training methods, interviews with a number of relevant service providers were also undertaken. The findings of this study confirm the existence of specific events or procedures, or deficiencies in several definite areas, which survivors believe impacted on their bereavement, or defined as being crucial in exacerbating the traumatic nature of their experience. These include their subjective emotional and mental state following death notification; a poignant paucity of information, guidance and advice during this time; insensitive and inappropriate interactions with others, notably service providers; a number of procedural aspects such as the death notification, and several issues unique to the experience of being a child survivor of a parent's suicide. Recommendations based on these findings include the development of more thorough and informed, frameworks to guide future studies, service provision and support services, as well as continued efforts to generate greater insights and understanding into the reactions and experiences of survivors of suicide in the time following their loved one's suicide.

Included in

Psychology Commons