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World Suicide Prevention Day: Research shows far-reaching impact of a lost life

John Bradley says grief still manages to “ambush” him. Photo: Penny Stephens Support groups such as Compassionate Friends have helped him John Bradley manage his grief. Photo: Penny Stephens

John Bradley has three children. The eldest is in Melbourne, he says, the youngest lives in Paris, and the middle one is buried in Springvale.

It has been just over 10 years since John Bradley’s daughter, Heather – a budding actor – took her own life. Yet Mr Bradley says grief still manages to “ambush” him.

“Last Sunday was Father’s Day,” he says. “I had some contact with my surviving children, but obviously not with Heather. Those days, I feel, you get ambushed in your grief.

“I can hear just a bit of music, see something – a photograph – or bump into someone.

“I went to see the opera The Tales of Hoffmann. I thought this would be a wonderful spectacle. But one of the scenes was a girl who was just about to take her own life. She had long, curly red hair, just like Heather. I just burst into tears. It was overpowering. I wasn’t expecting it.”

New national research into the ripple effect of suicide reveals that those “touched by suicide” show high levels of distress over a long period of time, ranging from one to 58 years.

A collaboration between Suicide Prevention Australia and New England University, the study –The Ripple Effect: Understanding the exposure and impact of suicide in Australia – surveyed 3220 people who said they had been been affected by suicide in some way.

The report’s lead researcher, New England University associate professor Myfanwy Maple, says this is the first time a  study of this scale has been undertaken in Australia.

The World Health Organisations estimates that more than 800,000 people die by suicide each year. Dr Maple says that according to the latest ABS 2014 Cause of Death data, 2864 Australians took their own life.

Dr Maple, who is also a director on the board of Suicide Prevention Australia, says exposure to suicide exists across the community.

“So we know that there is going to be stress immediately after a suicide death, or immediately after someone has attempted suicide,” she says.

“What’s important in this research is to show that stress goes for longer periods of time for some people.

“The next stage is how do we identify those people who are going to need support and what’s the best time to offer it to them.”

She says one solution is to think beyond the mental health model of suicide prevention and towards community awareness and reducing stigma.

“Recent research from the United States suggests that 135 people are impacted by each suicide death,” Dr Maple says. “Australia can no longer ignore the ripple effect of pain suicide brings when it touches our lives.”

The report’s findings, she says, show that as part of suicide prevention activity, there is a need to focus on those who have been exposed to suicide.

“People who have been exposed to suicide deaths are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, actions and behaviours,” Dr Maple says.

“So … being exposed to suicide may increase your risk of suicide yourself.”

Mr Bradley says that after the death of his “beautiful and talented daughter” at 25 years old, he too “fleetingly” thought of joining her.

But being introduced to, and volunteering for, support groups such as Compassionate Friends has helped him manage his grief.

“They gave me the inspiration to keep on going …to a degree it saved my life,” he says.

“When Heather died, I thought she would be reunited with her mother [who died seven years before]. They are both interred quite close to one another in Springvale.

“Rather than me take my own life to be with them …I secured a plot in the same garden bed in Springvale, so eventually I will be with them.

“Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end the relationship.”

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

For help or information call Lifeline on 131 114 or SuicideLine on 1300 651 251.

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