Whoever wrote the lyrics to the MASH theme tune was wrong: suicide isn’t painless. It leaves in its wake a trail of devastation amongst those who knew the person taking their own life. When a young Mum took her life and her niece and brother discovered her body, it triggered a Merseyside charity (in 2003) to create a new service to support families, friends and work colleagues who were affected by suicide. Following a number of years of development, it’s a service that is now being delivered across a growing number of areas in the UK.
Listening Ear Merseyside had been providing an acclaimed counselling service for children, young people and adults affected by bereavement, separation or loss since 1993. In 2003, its adult counselling service achieved BACP service accreditation, and 13 years later its children and young people’s service moved into its own bespoke therapy centre in Whiston, the first of its kind in the North West. The children and young people’s service achieved BACP service accreditation in 2020.
Listening Ear’s Chief Executive from 2013, Richard Brown knew that counselling wasn’t always appropriate for those who had lost someone to suicide, but that statistics showed that nine per cent of people affected by suicide could go on to take their own life. What was needed was a service that could intervene immediately once a suicide was notified, to work with those affected to ensure they were supported in their dealings with coroners, the police and, potentially, the media. In this way, family members, friends and work colleagues who had been affected could find a supported way to come to terms with what had happened.
Working with managers, staff and volunteers, Richard worked up a proposal for Listening Ear to provide exactly that service and, after tendering to a consortium of regional public health teams, Amparo was born.
“Amparo means ‘shelter’ in Spanish – and that’s exactly what we wanted to provide at a time when people feel devastated,” says Richard.
From the moment the police suspect, or a coroner concludes, someone has died by suicide, Amparo makes contact (with their permission) with family members or whoever had discovered the suicide and they aim to make initial contact within 24 hours of a referral. From then on, a suicide liaison worker helps guide people through the complexities of an inquest, dealing with the police and preparing themselves for media coverage of the case. “We also make sure people are signposted to appropriate, specialist, local services that can support them in the longer term,” Richard said.
Amparo can evidence impressive success: in its first four years working in Cheshire & Merseyside, not a single beneficiary of the service went on to take their own life, a figure Richard Brown puts down to the way in which staff approach their role: “We design the service around the needs of each individual and we’re careful to measure the impact we have through the use of appropriate tools such as the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Score (WEMWEBS).”
At its heart, Amparo aims to alleviate the distress of those exposed to or bereaved by suicide and to reduce the risk of imitative suicidal behaviour and ‘suicide clusters’, but an important consideration is also the economic costs of suicide. A single suicide is estimated to cost £1.67m (Public Health England), in terms of the impact on the wider health, social care and employment networks. Amparo therefore represents a cost-effective way to both support those affected by suicide and to reduce the costs to of suicide to society.
Since launching in Cheshire and Merseyside, Amparo has grown to cover Lancashire, South Yorkshire, Kent & Medway and Coventry & Warwickshire, making the service available to a total of approximately8.1 million people (15% of the population of England), as an increasing number of local authorities recognise the value of what is termed ‘suicide postvention’.
But it’s not just about helping individuals at the time of crisis. Amparo has also worked with local authorities in Merseyside, Cheshire and elsewhere to hold a series of memorial events to remember those who have taken their own life. These are uplifting events, like the one hosted at the Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens early in 2019, attended by upwards of 170 people, and offer anyone who has been bereaved by suicide a chance to recognise they are not alone. Too often, family members talk of the shame of remembering the death by suicide of their loved one, so these events offer an opportunity to celebrate their lives with people who know what they’ve gone through.
During the difficult months of lockdown in 2020/21, Amparo’s Liaison Workers continued to provide much-needed support via telephone and video link.
Amparo can also work with employers, schools and other institutions to help manage the impact when a suicide occurs in the community. This helps lessen the risk of further suicides happening.
As Amparo has developed, so has the expertise of its staff team. Richard Brown puts it this way: “Our aim is to ensure that anyone who has been affected by a suicide is appropriately supported and our staff go the extra mile to provide that support.”