Mum shares how suicide liaison service saved her life

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To coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, NHS Kernow is raising awareness of a specialist support service for people bereaved by suicide.

The Suicide Liaison Service, which is commissioned by NHS Kernow and provided by Outlook South West, is the only NHS-funded service in England and Wales. An average of 80 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly take their own lives each year. 

Whilst ‘survivors’ of suicide have certain things in common with other bereaved people, some aspects of their grief are unique, such as the impact of the stigma that continues to surround suicide. 

The service supports family and friends by providing face-to-face contact, information, practical support and guidance to help sort out personal affairs, such as dealing with the Coroner’s Office, the police, media or faith groups, where necessary. 

Penny Phillips (CORR), 54, from Truro, has used the service since the death of her only child Anna, 20, in June 2015. 

Medical student Anna was in her second year at Southampton University when she suffered a psychosis and returned to Cornwall. She died after taking an overdose of diet pills that she had bought over the internet. 

Mrs Phillips (CORR) described her daughter as “bright and intelligent” but with a deep and “natural sense of empathy”. 

She said: “I am not entirely sure I would still be here without the Suicide Liaison Service. 

“It was so traumatic, it still is and it still feels like only yesterday. 

 “The speed with which I received support was the first impressive aspect of the service. 

“Anne (Embury, service lead at Outlook South West) supported myself, my partner and other members of our family for over two years through the most traumatic time imaginable in both emotional and practical ways, for example, through the inquest process. 

“Apart from regular visits by and communication with Anne herself, I have been referred by her for two lots of counselling with highly trained psychotherapists (approximately 16 sessions in total), as has my partner (six sessions), and Anne and her team have also been in contact with other members of my family to provide support.” 

Through the Suicide Liaison Service Mrs Phillips was able to complete an eight week bereavement course, facilitated by trained psychotherapists. 

“I would encourage anyone who is experiencing the bereavement of a suicide, do not hesitate to pick up the phone to Outlook South West. The whole team at Outlook South West from the therapists to the support workers to the receptionists they have all been so incredibly kind, supportive and helpful – they have been my lifeline.” 

Natalie Jones, NHS Kernow’s Governing Body member and Chief Nursing Officer, said: “Bereavement by suicide is different to other forms of grief. Many people bereaved by suicide can feel alone and unable to talk about their feelings openly. The liaison service hopes to remove this stigma so people do not feel ashamed or embarrassed to come forward for help when they need it the most.” 

Anne Embury, Service Lead with Outlook South West said: “I am pleased that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are leading the way in supporting people who are bereaved by suicide, which can be very difficult for some people to deal with. We have provided advice to other public health departments across the country to encourage the delivery of similar services elsewhere. The National Suicide Prevention Alliance and Public Health England have used our service as an example of good practice in the development of a national framework for suicide bereavement services for England and Wales.” 

Mrs Phillips will be among people affected by suicide who will unite for a service, organised by Outlook South West, that is taking place on Sunday at Truro Cathedral as part of World Suicide Prevention Day. Last year she attended with just her partner but this they will be joined by more of Anna’s friends and family. 

She said: “The warmth and support felt during and after the service was palpable. It was an opportunity for people to see that they were not alone, to talk with others similarly affected, to reach out and be reached, and to be recognised.”

World Suicide Prevention Day

Image copyright: Penny Phillips