Norfolk Coroner reveals the wide impact of suicide cases

Norfolk coroner, William Armstrong, at the Coroner's Court. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk coroner, William Armstrong, at the Coroner's Court. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong has spoken of the impact suicide has on the people left behind and the need for more support to be given to those grieving the loss of someone who has taken their own life.

Mr Armstrong was speaking at the conference at Norfolk Coroner's Court – called Responding to Suicide: Exploring the Effects and Supporting the Survivors – which he organised along with the coroner's chaplain, the Rev Christine Copsey.

They have also organised a special service of remembrance for those who have taken their own lives which is at Norwich Cathedral this Saturday and open to all.

Mr Armstrong said yesterday's conference, the second he has organised in Norwich, had been very constructive and was a ground-breaking initiative which he did not think had been done before anywhere else.

'We heard from a number of people giving different perspectives on how people can best be helped in dealing with the terrible trauma of grieving for someone who has died by their own actions.

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'Suicide is a subject most people would prefer not to talk about, but giving support to those left behind is very important,' he said.

During the conference Mr Armstrong said: 'As a coroner I deal with all kinds of unnatural deaths but the deaths that affect me most deeply very often are those to do with suicide.'

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He said before inquests he always talked to the families of the people involved.

He said they were often left asking questions such as 'why didn't somebody stop him?' and 'why didn't we do more?'.

Mr Armstrong told the conference that every 85 minutes in this country somebody kills themselves.

He said in 2011 coroners nationwide dealt with 2,000 inquests through road traffic collisions and 3,400 through suicide – the most common cause of death for young people.

'In Norfolk alone there are 50 to 60 suicide inquests every year, and statistically they are only those inquests where suicide has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt.'

He said researchers have said that for every person who takes their own life there are, on average, six people who are directly affected.

But he said the reality was that there were likely to be far more, with work colleagues, carers, friends, professionals and the first person to find the body being affected as well as immediate family members.

Mr Armstrong also spoke of specific complexities of being bereaved by suicide, including how suicide challenges the value and meaning of life, and that a major difficulty for the people left behind was that there was still a stigma attached to suicide.

He explained how the coroner's service tried to offer as much support as possible.

'At the inquest we try to provide help and support. We try to deal with the matter as sympathetically as possible.

'We have our coroner's chaplain and a victim support service of trained volunteers who are at every inquest to give practical help and guidance,' he said.

The special service of remembrance for those who have taken their own lives is at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday at 2.30pm. The preacher will be the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James. The service is open to anyone who has been affected by suicide.

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