Suicide Postvention and Bereaved by Suicide

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This faith communities focused workshop is specifically designed for faith leaders who have pastoral ministries such as clergy, chaplains, lay preachers, youth ministers, and pastoral care workers. It provides an opportunity for participants to:

  • reflect on suicide from their faith perspective

  • identify how faith and spirituality can contribute to positive mental wellbeing of those they minister to

  • address mental illness, trauma and suicidality in their pastoral care work

  • depth their understanding of how funeral rites impact on suicide contagion and grief process of those bereaved by suicide

  • update their understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing and faith.


The sensitive issue of suicide among victims of institutional or clergy abuse and its impact of families and faith communities will also be covered.

When Suicide Comes to Church: Pastoral care approaches for working with suicidal people and those bereaved by suicide 


The impact of suicide on family and communities including communities of faith can be devastating. So how do faith communities respond when suicide comes to church. This response is not only in providing pastoral care to those bereaved by suicide but also to those experiencing mental illness, psychological distress, trauma or suicidality. Faith communities also have a role to play in promoting wellbeing and participating in community-based suicide prevention initiatives.

Faith community leaders are often first responders after a suicide death. How they support a highly traumatised and confused family through their grief journey or facilitate a funeral service that both honours the life that was lived without shying away from the tragedy of suicide can have an enduring impact on the recovery of those bereaved. While many families experience compassionate and supportive pastoral care, others have felt compounded shame and guilt, experiencing additional layers of unresolved grief because of how faith leaders have spoken about the suicide.


Should a suicide impact a faith community, faith leaders are often called upon to conduct funeral services and ofter pastoral care, and so, would benefit greatly from understanding suicide grief and trauma and best practices in safe and effective messaging. With the increasing number of people dying by suicide, especially in young people, concern has been expressed about the potential risk in tangis and funerals of glorifying suicide which could lead to further suicides. This workshop will examine these issues of concern and to ensure that the ritual or the cultural practices honour the person without glorifying the way the person died. The sensitive issues of observing cultural funeral rituals (tikanga) and their concern of not glorifying suicide, especially in their tamariki will also be covered.


Faith beliefs are sometimes shattered in the aftermath of suicide, and anger at God is not uncommon. The implications of past and current theological and dogmatic teachings on suicide when working with suicidal people or those bereaved by suicide will be explored.

Studies have shown the 85% of clergy know that helping people in a suicide crisis is part of their responsibility, but they don’t know what to do. When faced with engaging with someone they are worried about, it is essential that faith leaders ensure that their pastoral counselling skills includes knowledge and skills to identify someone in an emerging suicide crisis and to competently respond to the crisis.


From a suicide prevention standpoint, faith communities can foster compassion and support for people who are experiencing hardship, and can use theological reflection to help people make meaning, especially understanding of suffering and despair. They can also work closely with mental health organisations in the community to build bridges and increase their mental health and suicide prevention literacy.


Topics covered

  • Suicide and religion: The role of religion as suicide risk and protective factors

  • Salvation or damnation: the implications of theological and dogmatic teachings of suicide on pastoral care approaches.

  • Common language: forgiveness, redemption, compassion, hope and despair - the intersection of a religion and mental wellbeing

  • Impact of suicide on a faith community

  • Institution and clergy abuse associated suicide

  • An overview of the issues for those bereaved by suicide and how the tangi or funeral service helps

  • The stigma of suicide and mental illness

  • The funeral of someone who has died by suicide - Why the concern?

  • Mitigating against the potential for suicide contagion

  • The role of the tangi or funeral service in community debriefing after a suicide

  • Ways to discuss / address the topic of suicide in a funeral - helpful and unhelpful messages

  • Working with the family in preparing the funeral

  • Honouring not glorifying - how to manage the tension between the two and why it is important

Feedback from other participants

“Barry’s depth of understanding of faith and spirituality made this workshop not only relevant but deeply enriched my ministry."                                                   Parish Priest

A team of six attended from the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington and we were all impressed with the depth and breadth of the well grounded research, real life stories, and professionalism in talking about suicide. An added bonus is that you bring a solid understanding of Catholic theology and tradition that underpins your input around funerals and other rituals. I liked your interactive approach that harvested wisdom from participants.The team took away some significant learnings. I do hope we get the opportunity to attend other workshops in the future.

Pastoral Ministry Co-ordinator

“An inspiring workshop which gave me many powerful insights into those who are in pain or are grieving”