Norfolk support group offers help to those affected by suicide

Kathryn and Joy from Empathy suicide bereavement group are launching session in Cromer and the surro

Joy Cresswell, left, and Kathryn Sault from Empathy suicide bereavement group - Credit: Archant

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, Nick Richards spoke to Joy Cresswell, co-founder of Empathy, a Norwich-based suicide bereavement support group

Fifteen years after losing her son to suicide, Joy Cresswell is still thankful for the help she was given to help her make sense of the utter despair she felt.

And now she makes it her mission to help other people who have been affected by similar feelings of confusion and the unanswered questions that the suicide of a family member or close friend brings.

Joy, who lives in Norwich, felt distraught after her son's death but didn't know who to open up to about it.

She said: "I lost my son Ian 15 years ago at the age of 24 and was introduced to a suicide bereavement support group run by Norman Smith, who sadly died last year. 

"The group was a great help and through it I eventually met Kathryn Sault, who had lost her sister to suicide. We kept in touch and after a year, Kathryn and I carried on the good work from Norman by setting up Empathy four years ago.

"We're really here to help people make sense of tragedy on a small and personal level.

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"We find people might want to talk about other things with us which is fine too. There are no rules and sometimes when we've been helping people in a small group we've found they are happy to talk to each other and share their experiences which is fine too.

"There is no taking turns or anything like that, we are here to help at the end of the day.

"People who have lost someone to suicide know all the mixed emotions, the guilt and the unanswered questions and it's just nice for people to know they can talk to someone who has been through something similar and we feel that really helps. We don't mind meeting people or talking to them at any time of day."

Joy admitted that over the past 12 months they've found it harder to meet people in person due to lockdown rules.

Norman Smith and Joy Cresswell from Lifeline.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Joy Cresswell with the late Norman Smith, who helped her after she lost her son Ian to suicide in 2006

She said:  "Last year we were able to meet face-to-face with people in gardens between lockdowns but since then it hasn't been so easy. We've found that people contacting us by email really dropped off in lockdown but for people who were living in isolation during lockdown it must have been very difficult thinking that they had nowhere to go. 

"Each person we help is different, it can be helping somebody who lost someone to suicide recently or many years ago and, likewise, the support we give can be just one call or we can meet over a period of time. We are here to help.

"We were doing home visits which people seemed to like. They didn't always want to face a group so we found it easier to meet in Norwich. But through the winter months it was hard as people didn't want to meet outside and we actually found that people weren't that keen to talk over Zoom for some reason. I think they miss the one-to-one contact in person.

"We did notice more people contacting us just before Christmas and we expect that there may be more people getting in touch once lockdown is over and we can meet again.

"We never want to push people - they can email or text or call us and we can help. It's an emotional thing for people to talk about and there is no pressure to talk with us straight away, sometimes people make contact and don't always want to meet in person."

Empathy is very much about helping people who have lost family members or friends to suicide and isn't a group to approach if you were contemplating ending your own life.

Joy said: "People who have suicidal thoughts should go to someone like The Samaritans first. We're not trained in the same way that The Samaritans are, but between Kathryn and I, we do have a good understanding of the subject and we are here to offer compassionate support  for those who are experiencing the emotional turmoil suffered after such a loss.

"We are a relatively inexpensive operation to run, the main expenses are fuel and advertising. We paid for it all ourselves in the first year but since then we've had some Norfolk County Council funding and donations from fundraising events from companies like Tesco, East of England Co-op Funeral Directors and Marlene’s School of Dance which is much appreciated.

You can contact Empathy at or visit