This month’s column may be too hard to read for anyone whose life has been touched by suicide – but I hope many people will read it, as the subject affects all too many of us and not everyone knows where to turn for help.

Most people know, or know of, someone who chose to end their own life; and sadly in Norfolk there is a higher likelihood of this given that suicide rates have at times been above the national average.

Suicide bereavement is a unique kind of grief – “grief with the volume turned up”, in the words of Norfolk and Waveney Mind’s Suicide Bereavement Service manager Jay Harrison – and those affected are often overwhelmed by shock, sadness, confusion and guilt, requiring help to navigate this loss and find their ‘new normal’.

I began working for Norfolk and Waveney Mind because I felt helpless to know what to do after a lifelong friend’s suicide during the pandemic.

There is nothing you can do, not really; what burns away at you is that it’s too late to do anything.

In the end all I could think was to put my love of writing to some use by raising awareness of the support available to people in crisis.

It seemed a tiny gesture – everything feels inconsequential compared to the impact of a suicide – but it was something.

Many of my colleagues have similar stories of how they came to work for N&WM.

Jay came to the charity after losing two friends, which caused him to change career and devote himself to those who are devastated by losing someone to suicide and to those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

While every person who takes their own life is facing a unique set of circumstances, there are common signs and risk factors that Jay and his team look out for.

“We know that risk factors such as employment status, relationships and finance all have an impact,” he says.

“In Norfolk we have a lot of farming, construction and seasonal work, industries that data shows to be of increased risk, which may explain why we've seen slightly higher suicide rates compared to the rest of the country.”

Other factors identified by Norfolk County Council’s ‘Public Health Audit: Suicide in Norfolk 2022’ report include being a middle-aged or very elderly man (men make up around three-quarters of suicides); living alone; living in a deprived area; having been born in an EU country; and having experienced childhood trauma. The document states around 90 people die by suicide in Norfolk every year.

In terms of warning signs in individuals, Jay says: “I look at behavioural changes, sleep patterns, eating patterns; are they becoming withdrawn, or more risky in their choices? The three words that always worry me most to hear are ‘worthless’, ‘helpless’ and ‘hopeless’.

“Of course, sometimes there are no signs at all, which adds to the complexity of the issue and the weight of the loss.”

If someone is showing signs of being suicidal, the team always emphasise the importance of talking.

“That could be to a friend, colleague, medical professional, GP, or to Norfolk and Waveney Mind or Samaritans or any of the other mental health organisations that are out there.” Such conversations might cover helping someone to identify triggers, and advice on how to calm themselves when they feel heightened.

When someone does choose to end their life, help is available for those affected. Timely intervention is critical, as those bereaved to suicide are 65pc more likely to attempt to take their own life.

There is often an intensity to bereavement by suicide that derives from a mixture of complex and conflicting emotions. “This kind of sudden loss has a massive, massive impact,” says Jay. “There are lots of additional emotions and feelings that layer on top of the normal things you’d experience with grief. It is not uncommon for people to feel anger towards the person or towards the situation.

"They may feel ashamed to admit how the person died. Guilt is the other big factor that needs to be addressed. To deal with these complicated emotions, people find that just being able to talk to others who have faced this unimaginable loss is a massive tonic.”

Sarah Byrne, from Mattishall, is one such person. She lost her 26-year-old son Peter in 2022, and says her sessions with NWM counsellor Hayley Gerrard kept her alive. “I’m just sad that my son Pete didn’t get help from anywhere and I wish I’d known about Norfolk and Waveney Mind at that time, because I know they would have helped,” she said. “They don’t just help people who are suffering in the moment, they help people who are suffering after they’ve lost someone like they did me. So thanks, Norfolk and Waveney Mind – you saved my life, I can tell you.”

For more information see and

For general resources and information about Norfolk and Waveney Mind’s services, visit or call 0300 330 5488. For urgent mental health support, call NHS 111 option 2.

The ‘Public Health Audit: Suicide in Norfolk 2022’ document is available at