Pilot Suicide Bereavement Support Service launched in Scotland

Suicide Prevention Scotland
5 min readAug 12, 2021

Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG) have launched a pilot service to support families bereaved by suicide.

Established by the Scottish Government, NSPLG brings together people with lived experience of suicide alongside, academic, third sector, and statutory partners to support the delivery of Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters.

One key action in the plan is delivering support to families bereaved by suicide. The Scottish Government is providing funding of £510,000 for the pilot service which will provide practical and emotional support to families who have lost a loved one to suicide, for up to two years

The service is also intended to help reduce suicide, as evidence shows that up to 10% of people bereaved by suicide may go on to attempt to take their own lives.

Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland, two of Scotland’s leading mental health charities, are working in partnership to deliver the services across two health board areas, NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Highland.

The new service will operate seven days a week; it will make initial contact with bereaved families within 24 hours of a referral and specially trained bereavement support workers will provide customised support relevant to each family’s circumstances.

These highly trained staff will be able to recognise potential risks or wider safeguarding issues, including signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and will also be able to work collaboratively across other local services. Together this joined-up approach will ensure a package of support is offered to families during this extremely difficult time.

The service will be independently reviewed to learn how best to support families bereaved by suicide. The evaluation will also help inform future planning of bereavement support services.

Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland already support about 3,300 people every week, and have experience of working in projects such as the Scottish Government’s Distress Brief Intervention Programme (DBI) and Edinburgh’s Thrive initiative.

Seonaid Stallan lost her son and sister in law to suicide within weeks of each other. She has worked on the scoping and design of the new pilot service.

“Five years ago, I lost my 18-year-old son, Dylan to suicide,” Seonaid says. “It is impossible to describe the devastation, grief and confusion that we felt as a family.

“There was no support offered to families in our position and we relied on each other and close friends to try and navigate the complex practical arrangements as well as our own grief.

“Just three weeks later, my sister in-law Vanessa, took her own life. No one had ever asked us how we were coping.

“This service offers a vital lifeline for families bereaved by suicide and may even save lives.”

Jenn Barnes is also a member of NSPLG’s Lived Experience Panel. She lost her brother Calum to suicide in 2017.

“As a family, knowing that this pilot service will help support and guide loved ones immediately after a loss to suicide, is a great relief,” Jenn says.

“In the days and weeks after we lost Calum, we had no idea who to turn to for advice and information on practical things like dealing with the police.

“The new pilot will help to address this situation and ensure that families have answers to basic questions as well as signposts to additional counselling services that they can access as time passes.

“The risk of suicide amongst people who have recently been bereaved is elevated. I was extremely worried about both my parents after the loss of my brother and having this scheme in place gives me hope that no family will have to struggle alone during what will probably be the most difficult time of their lives”

Nicola Rylatt lost her husband to suicide. She is a member of NSPLG’s Lived Experience Panel. Nicola said: “Dealing with a bereavement from suicide can be scary and lonely; with so many complicated feelings and unanswered questions.

“Having effective support for those grieving in these circumstances is vitally important to protect the mental health of the bereaved, together with providing judgement free resources to work through all aspects of their loss.”

Steve Platt, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy Research at University of Edinburgh and co-chair of NSPLG’s Academic Advisory Group.

“People bereaved by suicide are at an increased risk of psychiatric illness and suicide compared to people bereaved through other causes,” he explains.

“Research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland has also revealed widespread feelings of stigma, rejection and shame among family members following the loss of a loved one to suicide.

“These feelings get in the way of help-seeking and increase the family’s sense of social isolation. What is needed, the research concludes, is a rapid, flexible, empathic response to support and advocate for people bereaved by suicide.

“This pilot project is intended to establish and evaluate such a service. It is an extremely exciting initiative, with the potential to make a real difference to the psychological and mental well-being of people bereaved by suicide.”

Mental health charity, Penumbra, manages the service in Ayrshire and Arran. Their area manager Issy Murray comments: “Working alongside people affected by suicide including, Jenn and Seonaid, has been crucial in the creation of this new service.

“Each person’s experience of being bereaved by suicide will be different. Our person led approach will mean we’re able to tailor support for each person and provide a unique and compassionate space for people.”

Frances Simpson, CEO of Support in Mind Scotland says: “Losing a loved one to suicide brings pain and trauma beyond words, and we know that people who have been bereaved need compassion, understanding and specialist practical support, not just in the immediate aftermath, but for many months after.

“Support in Mind Scotland is proud to be part of this vital new service and will work closely with our partners in Penumbra to make sure every bereaved person knows that they are not alone and that they receive the help they need, when they need it.”

NSPLG chair Rose Fitzpatrick CBE QPM adds: “No suicide should ever be considered inevitable, but each family that loses a loved one to suicide is left bereft and in need of significant, specialist, support.

“We are confident that this new service, being piloted in Ayrshire and Arran and in Highland with our partners Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland, will provide critically important support to people bereaved by suicide when they really need it.”

Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care says: “Losing someone close through suicide is devastating, and causes extreme pain for their loved ones. Often those bereaved are left with unanswered questions and unresolved issues on top of dealing with their grief.

“I am pleased that the Scottish Government, as part of our work to deliver on our Suicide Prevention Action Plan, is funding this crucial pilot service to support those bereaved by suicide.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal, please don’t hesitate to ask for help by contacting your GP, NHS24 on 111, Samaritans on 116 123 or Breathing Space on 0800 83 58 87.



Suicide Prevention Scotland

Working to deliver Creating Hope Together, the Scottish Government and COSLA's suicide prevention strategy.