HUGG, led by Fiona Tuomey (CEO), is an organisation supporting adults bereaved by suicide across Ireland through peer support groups. These are groups of up to 12 people bereaved by suicide who meet every fortnight to discuss their bereavement experiences and support each other.
Our research team received funding through the Irish Research Council to examine the impact of participating in these groups and the experiences of group members, using a combination of follow-up surveys (for up to 6 months) and interviews. We learned that those attending peer support groups experienced improved wellbeing and reduced symptoms of traumatic grief. We also measured depression symptoms, physical grief reactions, and stigma experienced. These measures did not change during participation in the groups.
When we interviewed people attending the HUGG groups, they told us about why the groups helped them. The groups provided the opportunity to share their experiences with other people bereaved by suicide; to feel less alone in their experiences; to glean hope from seeing people at different stages in their bereavement journey; and to think about things differently through hearing other peoples’ perspectives.
In this project, we heard from a small sample of people, and did not capture views of people who may have had negative experiences of peer support. However, our research highlights the benefits of peer support groups for those who seek them out. The study also tells us about the experiences that might be more difficult to change for people bereaved by suicide. We saw little change in peoples’ experiences of stigma. Improving this likely requires activities that encourage all of us, in the wider public, to continue to challenge stigma towards suicide and suicide bereavement.
“Ni neart go cur le chéile” or in other words, there is no strength without unity.
Project lead: Dr Eve Griffin
Funding: Irish Research Council’s New Foundations 2020 scheme.