Bereavement due to suicide
Support for children and young people
Many people we talked to had young children or teenagers at the time their partner, husband, wife or other child had died. Some found help via the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
CAMHS promotes the mental health and psychological wellbeing of children and young people. It is part of the National Health Service and provides high quality, multidisciplinary mental health services to all children and young people with mental health problems.
When Chloe died, Linda's other daughter was only ten. The school counsellor referred her to CAHMS...
Did she [the school counsellor] help your other daughter?
She’d helped her at school. I think that she’d made some sort of connection with her but they referred her on to CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service].
And that’s based at the hospital. And there’s a lady there that she goes to see who’s been really, really helpful, really good.
For individual counselling?
Yeah. And she went up just after Chloe died and then she went last year and she’s been this year as well.
Is that every week or every month?
She goes every week but it’s, it normally runs for about 8 weeks I think. But she’s …
And then she has a break and then goes again?
Well, she went the first time and the, the counsellor there said, you know, that she’s done really well, don’t worry if she needs to come again, she might feel that she needs to. And that’s what happened last year. But she’s been quite good because, like my daughter normally tells us, or you can tell when she’s getting to feel a bit down.
And like we’ll say, you know, “Do you need to speak to anybody?” And, but she always asks for the same lady because she really, you know, must find her helpful.
So that was counselling provided by the National Health Service?
Yeah. And that was, that’s very good.
She’s really good for her. And I mean, sometimes, because when she, the, the first couple of times she went, she, sometimes she asks us to go in as well. So normally I take her and she’ll ask me to go in and talk about something. Or, if I’ve got any problems relating to my daughter I phone, I can phone her up and she’ll talk to me over the phone.
Oh, that’s good.
And that’s really good, yeah.
CAMHS team members are likely to include child and adolescent psychiatrists, social workers, clinical psychologists, community psychiatric nurses, child psychotherapists, occupational therapists, and art, music and drama therapists.
Paula found help for her five year old daughter through a special bereavement unit at her local hospital. The staff gave Paula advice about what to say to her and how to tell her about the funeral. When her daughter was seven years old she was offered counselling by someone from the same unit.
After Paula's husband died, the special bereavement unit at the local hospital gave her useful...
Did you ever seek any specialist sort of counselling for your daughter?
Yeah, yeah. Well I, I got in touch with; my doctor was very good actually. He came over the day it happened, which kind of surprised me a bit. And he made a referral for emergency counselling for me and he gave me a phone number of the bereavement unit at the local hospital, which is apparently ground breaking, very, very good childhood bereavement. And I phoned them and asked them about breaking the news to her [my daughter] and about the funeral and obviously lots of other things. And their advice was for her to choose. So I showed her a clip from, I showed her the speech from ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, the funeral speech and I showed her a clip from Inspector Morse of all things because I couldn’t find clips of burials and there was one. So that she had just a general idea of what happens at funerals and burials. But she didn’t want to go so that was that. And then do you know, at least in the future I could, she always knows that she was given the choice and it was her choice.
That was an imaginative way of trying to explain what was going to happen.
I couldn’t think how to explain it otherwise. You know and we live in the age of the image don’t we so.
So did the hospital, this special bereavement unit arrange individual counselling for her?
They had, they did but it’s been a bit unfortunate that the counsellor’s father died not long ago so that it’s been a bit sporadic. And they couldn’t, they didn’t have funding to see people below the age of seven. Basically they had to have a cut-off point. They obviously don’t start at zero. Wouldn’t start, couldn’t. But the, the reasoning for choosing seven as the cut-off point is that children apparently don’t really understand death before that age (…).
They didn’t see her when she was five then?
No. They, they spoke to me and they gave me lots of very, very helpful advice but no they didn’t, they couldn’t. They didn’t have the funding for it. However when she was about seven and a half, which is obviously not that long ago, she started having bad dreams and crying in the night and stuff. So I phoned them up again and said, ‘Look this has happened’. They said, “Well, we’ll see her now”. And that was it.
And they arranged it quite quickly and we had about monthly sessions with a very nice lady who did memory boxes and there were various other things that they do. I mean I don’t, I wasn’t in on the sessions at all. So I don’t know exactly but [my daughter] appreciated, certainly appreciated it. She always wanted to go. And then as I say, the therapist’s father died and there was a big gap and then she came back and saw my daughter for one session and said after that she was leaving.
That’s a shame.
And so they’re looking for a replacement and I suppose a replacement will contact us.
You said that they gave you useful advice. Can you remember any of that useful advice?
I must be honest with them [the children], straight with them. Don’t hide things. Show your emotions… and let them cry and don’t be surprised if they don’t cry. Apparently they, they kind of pick up and drop grieving in a way that adults can’t. They did say a little bit about, you know you can read books sometimes with the children that will help. There’s one ‘The Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen which is supposed to be particularly good. Personally I didn’t really. I mean I offered [my daughter] to read them. She didn’t really want to so I was
Some organisations offer children’s ‘camps’ and group activities and others offer individual counselling for children, usually from the age of about seven. Some organisations offer both. A man we talked to thought that one of his daughters might benefit from individual counselling when she was older. He said that his daughter had a similar nature to his wife, who had been severely depressed and had died by suicide. Bipolar disorder had been mentioned as a possibility. The man was concerned about his daughter because he thought his wife’s illness might have had a genetic component.
Many people we talked to had found help for their children though Winston’s Wish, a charity for bereaved children. It helps children rebuild their lives after the death of a parent or sibling, and offers practical support and guidance to anyone concerned about a grieving child. There is special support for children who have been bereaved through suicide.
After Melanie's husband died she found help through Winston's Wish. She took the children for...
Winston’s Wish has been marvellous. I contacted them soon after Simon died, I think, no actually perhaps it was October, so 6 months after Simon died. And discovered they run camps for families bereaved by suicide. And we all had to go down to Cheltenham for an assessment. That was earlier this year (2007), and at that assessment they decided that the two older children and I could go on the camp but they felt the little one wouldn’t get enough at that stage.
When we were down at the assessment we did a big family tree and they explained to the boys that Simon had been adopted and he’d found it always difficult to be adopted although he was adopted by a lovely couple. He found the whole concept of being adopted very difficult although he’d found his real father and that had been a huge joy in his life. But they were able to explain that daddy had had a lot of sadness in his life. And I was asked to tell the story, the last few weeks of Simon’s life to everyone and I did that and then the children went off with their counsellors and I was left with a counsellor. And I said ‘And now I’ll tell you what really happened’ and I told him.
But that was just between you and him?
Yes, yes the very painful bits that had happened. And he urged me to try and tell in my own words that part of the story to the children because he said that they would know I was holding something back. And he said, you know, do it over a meal, do it whilst you’re out walking. And in fact we went out and had lunch after we’d had our assessment and I was able to tell the children then the very sad thing that I’d been keeping back from them.
That must have been hard.
It was but it was also a huge relief.
So you’d recommend to other people to try and be really as open and as honest as possible to the children?
Yes. You don’t have to go into all the messy details about things. You do it, pitch it at their level.
You said you went to Winston’s Wish first of all for an assessment.
Yes. They have to make sure, because there are a limited number of places, that you’re going to get the most out of it and that they can offer you the most.
Winston's Wish arranged a special 'camp' for the children and one for the adults. Melanie...
And then you went back again with the two elder children.
For the actual camp yes. And at the camp the children are taken off and are looked after and meet other children, about 20 other children bereaved by suicide, whether it’s siblings or parents. It’s mostly parents [who have died]. And then there’s a parents' group and that was.
By camp does it take place in a hotel or quite literally a camp?
It’s in a house in the Forest of Dean that the children stay in. So they’re really in a building but it’s called camp. And the parents stay in a very nice bed and breakfast and we have our sessions in a local school. But in the evening, it was only one evening, Saturday evening we went back to a very nice bed and breakfast and there were alternative therapies for the mums in the evening which was lovely.
What sort of alternative therapies?
Head massage or Bach flower remedies. (…) And there was aromatherapy. It was; it was a lot of touching. Not I mean, because I mean that’s one thing we all said that we missed, just another grown up touching us.
I can understand that.
And it was good to meet other people. We haven’t seen each other since. We’d seen each other the once since the camp but I felt that some real friendships were forged. There were deep bonds of understanding and pain and all the stories were different.
And the children, what did they make of it all?
They the children, well certainly our children haven’t kept in contact with other children, but again for them to meet other people bereaved by suicide to know that they weren’t abnormal, to know that they could have fun again. And just to know that this happens to lots of mummies and daddies. It’s not unusual.
Did they tell you what they’d done?
What did happen?
They did archery. They did clay throwing, throwing bits of clay at; they’d drawn up a wall with angry words on it. They’d had a candle lighting ceremony. They’d had made a film script of the last few days of the life of the person who had died. And there were some, they’d draw drawings and there were some quite difficult pictures on there. There was one of, for our middle son, of closed doors because he said, you know, “In those last few weeks daddy and you were always talking behind closed doors.” There was a picture of us arguing but I pointed out it was daddy would normally say nothing. It was mummy who was shouting and who was crying at daddy. I think it was hugely helpful for them.
What sort of age group would you say it was most suitable for?
Well 8s probably to 14s, something like that. It runs from 5 to 16 and although our youngest fitted the age bill they just felt that it’s, he was just, he was 6½, they didn’t feel, well actually, no, he was nearly 6¾, that he was old enough to cope with it because when we had the assessment he walked around the room. He sucked his thumb. He cried. He was recently assessed. We went down only a few weeks ago and he’s going on the November camp.
Will you go again with him?
I will take him down but I don’t go on the parents’ camp again. You only go on the parents’ camp once. So I will be in Cheltenham with, for him but I won’t be specifically doing the camp.
Winston’s Wish publishes a booklet especially for parents of children bereaved by suicide, called ‘Beyond the Rough Rock' supporting a child who has been bereaved by suicide’, written by Diana Crossley and Julie Stokes. The booklet helps with many aspects of bereavement, including how to explain suicide to young people, finding the right words, answering difficult questions and handling the different memories.
The organisation Cruse Bereavement Care also provides specialist support for children and young people (from age 5 to 18)on their Hope Again website.
People also found support for their children through local children’s bereavement organisations. A national network of such organisations is accessible via The Childhood Bereavement Network.
Kate had found support through Jigsaw4u. This is a child-centered charity supporting children, young people and their families through loss and trauma. It also aims to empower children and young people to give them a voice in decision making. Support services are free for those living in South West London and Surrey.
After her girls died, Kates seven year old son, Hannes, was seen by someone from Jigsaw4u, who...
I worry about my other children. We, we worry as mothers about the stranger; we worry about the road. And now I have, I have a, awful, dreadful fear of one of them doing the same. My young son was seen by a group called Jigsaw, who go into the school and they, they deal with children and bereavement. And the lady that sees him thinks that, feels that he needs to see a medical, a doctor, so Hannes is going to be seen by the children’s psychiatrist because he’s suppressing, he’s trying to block it all out whereas he should talk about it openly.
Who suggested Jigsaw?
It was by CAMHS, by the crisis team because they deal specifically with children…
… with bereavement.
So, an, an individual person from Jigsaw met your son?
Went into the school, just played with him and then just asked him sort appropriate questions, and talked about the girls [who died]. But she felt that he was trying to suppress his feelings and she says it’s, it’s not healthy, not a healthy thing because later on, in years to come, these could explode. And that’s how I feel about anti-depressants, I feel that, and as I said to my doctor, I never asked him for anti-depressants and I, he wouldn’t give them to me. And I said to him, “I’m not depressed, I’m grieving.”
Melanie had three young sons at the time that Simon died. Before she contacted Winston’s Wish she found support through CHUMS, a service which supports bereaved children and families in Bedfordshire after the death someone special in their lives has died. CHUMS supports children aged 3-18 years. A trained volunteer supports individual children and families. There are 3-day workshops for groups of children aged 3 to 12 years run on consecutive Saturdays, and evening workshops for children aged 12 - 18 years. Volunteers throughout the county come from a wide range of backgrounds, including nursing, social work, and teaching.
A CHUMS counsellor came to the home and saw the two older children individually. After that...
So you found help and support through Winston’s Wish for the family.
Individual counselling for yourself.
Yes through CHUMS for the family as well which was brilliant.
Yes. What happened at CHUMS?
The counsellor, wonderful man came and saw the children on an individual basis. Well he saw the older two children on an individual basis.
At home, and I can’t speak highly enough of this group in Bedfordshire. After they’d been seen on their own we then went to some family sessions where the little one came as well. There were several Saturdays where the children would talk about their feelings and lots of play therapy as well.
What happens in play therapy?
This was before we went to Winston’s Wish, and gave them an idea of throwing clay around, shouting, running and exploring their difficult feelings, making first aid kits and first aid kit would be, it was an elephant and they’d stick plasters on it and on the plaster would be written the things that would help the children like talking to mum, talking to a friend, playing, letting balloons go with; we’d write things on cards and tie them to the balloons and we’d let the balloons go. Making wonderful memory jars; I can show you my memory jar that I made.
Can you just say a little bit more about what you did when you went to the, was it a meeting of people at CHUMS?
Yes it was people who had been bereaved. It wasn’t necessarily bereaved by suicide. It was for people who’d lost, children who had lost grandparents who had been close to them. Children who’d lost a sibling and children who’d lost parents. And one of the things that they do at CHUMS that they do at Winston’s Wish as well and I think lots of other people, places do it is, you’re given a jar and you’re given some salt which you then divide up into piles and then you colour the salt with chalks, normal chalks that you just buy in an art shop, and each colour represents something to do with the person and then you put the salt back into the jar.
It’s beautiful. I didn’t know you could colour salt.
No. And then you get a label and you write on the label what each colour represents, so for us green for love of nature and where we live, pink is for Suffolk, it’s pink cottages and our annual holiday is in Southwold, yellow was for the Tour de France because the winner always wears a yellow jersey and your love of cycling, blue is for the sky and sea of the South of France especially Ceret, and purple is for our lavender hedges at the addresses we’ve lived at.
That’s lovely. Does each child make one or did you do it as a family?
No each child has done one as well.
And they put their own memories?
Some people found support for their children from SeeSaw, a charity providing grief and bereavement support for children in cases where a parent or sibling has died or is dying. Seesaw is based in Oxfordshire and supports for children up until the age of 18. The name SeeSaw reflects what their work with children is about. Grief is full of ups and downs and the difficulty is finding the balance. Through practical support and understanding, SeeSaw strives to reduce the distress of grieving children and enable families to work together through the difficult times before and after the death in the family.
After Susan's second son died she asked SeeSaw for help. Her daughter only wanted counselling two...
Yeah, the school actually gave us a card, about SeeSaw, which helps children in bereavement. I then contacted SeeSaw, I left a message, and they got back to me. I gave them brief information, and asked if they could come and talk to my daughter. I wasn’t sure at that time how much she needed help, but they did, they arranged a visit and they did come and talk to her. My daughter is quite grown up for her age. She did talk and actually saw them for two or three times but then decided off her own bat that she didn’t need to talk anymore. But she was reassured that if in future even in late teens if ever she needs to talk then she can always go back, or even go to another counselling group, I think, I believe SeeSaw only deal with children up to 16 years of age. But after that if ever she needs to speak to somebody, which they said she might later in life, but at the moment she was coping really well. She knew exactly what she wanted to say. What she didn’t want to talk about.
How old was she at the time?
She would’ve been 15.
So you allowed her to have that contact.
I felt that [my daughter] she couldn’t really talk to me; I think that was probably because we would get very upset, and she felt that if she talked to us we would be crying, we would be upset, and she didn’t want to do that.
So I think maybe this is why she doesn’t always talk about things. She might say the odd; bring his name up now and again, but not very often. SeeSaw also gave her what they call a memory box, and she’s got little bits of things of her brother’s, she made an actual memory box of both her brothers, which is really lovely, she’s got photographs, and little bits and pieces. But again she’s put that away, and she knows where it is if she feels she wants to get it out in her own time, then she will do that. I’ve never pushed her into, to saying oh you should do that, or you should do this. She will do things in her own time and when she’s ready. She also had a lot of help from friends at school, very very supportive, which I think helped her, really helped her through it.
After Gill died Stephen asked SeeSaw for help. He found their guidance invaluable. A volunteer...
SeeSaw are a charity who specialise in family bereavement with a focus specifically on the children, so they help the parents because they’re helping the children, but they don’t specifically provide counselling for the parent. And their advice has been invaluable; being able to speak to them about, well you know, does this make sense, or is this right, I mean does this feel right to you? You know they’ve been through it so many times that, yeah and of course at the end of the day it’s your decision but just having, you know, being in touch with people who you know professionally who, you know; there’s obviously some benefit in knowing people, who’ve been through it, but their experience is very specific to them, and it was important to me to have sort of a professional, you know that sort of professional guidance, and it’s all free of course, and [for me] Cruse in a in a similar way, the counselling there was excellent, I mean the quality of it was fantastic.
We have someone from SeeSaw, a volunteer who comes every couple of weeks now, to the house and although at the moment she’s doing arts and crafts stuff with them, her brief, well her brief, it’s not my brief it’s what she says that she’ll do, she’ll do anything with them, be that taking them out to the swings or going out for tea or sitting here talking about Mummy or, anything, so that is great.
Stuart’s son was only seven when Stuart’s ex-partner died. Stuart was disappointed that his son’s school did not pay for counselling for his son. However, his GP referred him for counselling.
Young people may decide that they do not want counselling. Jacqui’s teenage son was offered counselling by someone from Cruse, who specialised in counselling young people. He decided that he did not want counselling, perhaps because the woman was quite elderly. Jacqui thinks that it would have been better if her son had been seen by someone in their 20’s or 30’s who could talk about football and engage him in conversation (also see ‘Telling children and young people’).
Last reviewed July 2017.