The burden of living with and caring for a suicidal family member

Columba McLaughlin, Iain McGowan, Siobhan O'Neill, George Kernohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The family has a primary role in caring for family members who are suicidal and in the prevention of future suicide. However, the impact that suicidal behaviour has on these family members is poorly understood. Aim: To explore the lived experiences of participants who cared for suicidal family members.Method: Eighteen participants were interviewed using a short topic guide. Responses were digitally recorded and transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.Results: One overarching theme: 'Hard work for the whole family' and four sub themes: i) Family burden, ii) competing pressures, iii) secrecy and shame and iv) helplessness and guilt. Conclusions: Caring for a suicidal family member may be euphemistically summarised as ‘hard work’ that impacts heavily on the day to day tasks of other family members. Participants spent much time worrying and ruminating about the risk of suicide in their family member. Mental health care professionals ought to acknowledge and address the impact that suicidal behaviour has on family carers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-240
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Issue number5
Early online date2 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

There was no conflict of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the contents of this article.
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  • Suicide
  • suicidal behaviour
  • mental health
  • impact
  • burden on family members
  • informal carers.


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