The Guardian reports staff coping with suicide bereavement may not feel comfortable asking for help. So how should universities look after them?
Last spring, I interviewed successfully for what I can only describe as my dream job. For the first time, six years after finishing my PhD, I could see a clear future in academia. Two months before I was due to start, my sister ended her life. Beyond the emotional complexities of suicide bereavement, I couldn’t have predicted the ways my working life would be affected.
A recent study at UCL found that staff and students whose loved ones had died through suicide were 80% more likely to drop out of their job or studies than those where death was from other causes. Every experience of grief is unique, but an emerging body of research has begun to consider the distinct challenges faced by those who have lost loved ones through suicide. Alexandra Pitman, who authored the UCL study, suggests “employers should be aware of the significant impact that suicide bereavement has on people’s working lives and make adjustments to help their staff return to work”.
There have been times in the classroom when the strain of this performance must have shown. Like most lecturers in early career or changing roles, I was teaching other people’s reading lists: books by Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, and David Foster Wallace meant there was no avoiding the subject of suicide, or the often frank approach to it from students and colleagues for whom it is primarily a literary matter. Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art stopped me cold for what felt like minutes mid-lecture.
This year has also made me more aware of the fact that an institution can only offer the support we ask for. In January, at my partner’s encouragement, I finally explained the situation to my departmental head. I was offered compassionate leave without hesitation, but declined, worrying that too much time to myself might make things worse. Although it helps to know the support is there in principle, that doesn’t make asking for help any less difficult.
Although the day-to-day needs of my students sustain me for now, I find it impossible to imagine a future that doesn’t include my sister. All priorities have been called into question. In the longer term, I worry what the system will make of me if I can’t re-orientate myself.
Read the full article It’s hard to articulate grief after a suicide – but we still need support
Have you been affected by suicide? Did you ask for support? Did your employer give you the support you needed at the time and has it continued? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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