The phenomenological experience of families after a suicide loss


May 2023

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This study applied interpretative phenomenological analysis to understand the lived experiences of families who experienced a suicide loss of a child/sibling. Though research on the individual experiences of suicide loss exists, there is limited understanding of the systemic family experience and how the family restructures after losing a member. The purpose of this study was to examine the experience of families who lost a child/sibling to suicide and how the family system changed during the bereavement process. Participants consisted of six families and included 14 family members from the United States and Canada. Data was gathered through family interviews, with two to three family members in each system, via a semi-structured face-to-face or videoconference interview. Data analysis occurred through the lens of interpretative phenomenological analysis by transcribing interviews from audio recordings, coding, locating personal experiential themes and subthemes, cluster charting, and researcher interpretation of the experiences. Family interviews showed four themes: adult children shifting family roles, changes in how the family interacts with one another, navigating lasting change after a suicide, and the change experience of suicide loss survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results contribute to mental health clinicians’ understanding of a family’s needs after a suicide loss in hopes of creating a more positive experience for families in therapy and creating a safe space for the system to work through changes.



Sociology, Individual and Family Studies