Funded by: The R&D Division of the Public Health Agency NI and 2010-2014 R&D Office NI (£410,000)

About the Project

A sizeable minority of people who take their own lives do so without any apparent warning or indication to others. Specifically, they do not contact their family doctor or any other health professionals. However, most people who complete suicide are in contact with their family doctors in the preceding 12 months. A better understanding of the nature of these contacts and the various pathways experienced by suicidal people should reveal the gaps and barriers to effective service provision. We also need better information about the difficulties experienced by family carers, both prior to the death and afterwards.

We were commissioned by the R&D Division of the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency to address the gaps in our understanding of suicide in Northern Ireland. We undertook a mixed methods study in which we examined help-seeking pathways of people who have died by suicide. We also undertook a detailed investigation of those bereaved by suicide to examine needs, coping strategies and use of support services. The findings produced by this study are intended to underpin recommendations targeted at primary and community services related to suicide prevention and support for the bereaved.

Project Aims

We aimed to address several, interrelated questions:

  • Are there differences in help-seeking behaviour for suicidal people and those affected by suicide between urban and rural areas?
  • Do people bereaved by suicide resident in urban and rural areas employ different coping strategies and support systems?
  • Are there differences in access to support services for those bereaved by suicide in urban and rural areas?
  • How might primary care and other services be best configured to accommodate the suicide related needs of people in urban and rural areas?

The primary objectives of the project were:

  • To undertake a systematic detailed examination of help-seeking by people in Northern Ireland who have died by suicide over a two-year period.
  • To examine help-seeking and coping strategies employed by suicidal people from the perspective of family and friends.
  • To assess the impact of suicide on people bereaved by suicide by exploring coping strategies and the provision (and uptake) of support services for the bereaved.
  • To explore the experiences and needs of GPs in caring for people who have died by suicide.


  • Professor Gerard Leavey (Principal Investigator, The Bamford Centre)
  • Dr Karen Galway (School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast)
  • Dr Sharon Mallon (School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Education and Open University)
  • Dr Lynette Hughes (Research Associate, The Bamford Centre)
  • Janeet Rondón-Sulbarán (Institute of Nursing and Health Research, Ulster University)
  • Dr Michael Rosato (School of Psychology, Ulster University)