Informing bereaved relatives of a suicide

In cases of completed suicide, it is often the responsibility of the police to inform the bereaved. It is important to approach this situation with care and compassion. Never convey this news by telephone. Tell the bereaved in person, preferably with a colleague whereby at least one of you is well-informed about the particulars of the death.

After arriving at the home, let the relative know that you have sad news, and, once you are inside the home, deliver the message in a straightforward way without raising hope. Give the person time to process the news; allow tears and accept it if they do not cry. A person may react with outright denial, anger (possibly towards you), or guilt (this might be alleviated by you offering “There was nothing that anyone could have done”).

Engage a doctor if the person has a very extreme reaction or collapses. Answer any questions the relative poses around the specific details of the death and next steps, such as seeing the deceased. Facilitate their contacting a relative to come to the home and stay with the bereaved until support arrives. Leave your contact details in case they have further questions. Again, be mindful of your own safety and wellbeing, and seek support if you experience these situations as stressful and challenging.