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The Unimaginable Grief Parents Bereaved by their Children’s Suicide: Dr. Sharon McDonnell | Ep 24

When we talk about suicide bereavement, we often think about the grief part of the response, but sometimes we forget that the experience of losing a loved one to suicide is also traumatic. When a parent loses a child to suicide, the complications of traumatic grief are frequently unparalleled. For many, their core beliefs about the world and themselves are shattered and the pieces take a while to pull back together — like “someone pulled the pin on the grenade and threw it into the (emotional) center of the family.”

The order of how life is supposed to go is disrupted, and it takes a long time to make sense out of what happened. People often stumble around in their suicide grief state while other things start to fall apart around them. Families can sometimes also find resilience and even transformation during their recovery pathway.

What about the people who surround the parents bereaved by suicide — the first responders, the coroners, the funeral home directors, the healthcare providers? Sometimes these people are also so shocked they don’t know how to support the family. Sometimes these people are also fellow grievers.

In this interview we follow the journey of Dr. Sharon McDonnell. In 1990 she lost her brother to suicide, and she found herself on a ‘mission to move mountains.” Today she is a world leader in suicide bereavement research. Her dissertation was entitled, “Identifying the Experiences of Parents Bereaved by Suicide or Undetermined Death.” Listen to the lessons she has learned along the way.

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About Dr. Sharon McDonnell
Dr Sharon McDonnell is the Managing Director of Suicide Bereavement UK and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester (UoM). She has specialized in suicide bereavement research for 18 years and is considered to be one of the leading researchers in this field in the UK.

Prior to setting up Suicide Bereavement UK, Sharon was employed by the University of Manchester. During this time her research team developed PABBS (Postvention: Assisting those Bereaved by Suicide) evidence-based suicide bereavement training, which was informed by a 3yr study funded by government and first of its kind internationally.

Sharon’s team is currently conducting a national suicide bereavement survey, which is being conducted at the UoM in collaboration with Support After Suicide Partnership. Over 7,000 people have completed it, making it the largest suicide bereavement survey internationally. A report will be launched 25th Sept 2019 at Suicide Bereavement UK’s 8th international suicide bereavement conference. The findings will be of national and international importance.

Twitter: @SJMcDonn For more information on this and every episode go to

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