Julie Rickard – The value and impact of lived experience facilitation for suicide bereavement support groups

11 July 2024
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The value and impact of lived experience facilitation for suicide bereavement support groups

The following story discusses experiences of suicide.

Julie Rickard presented this reflection on her lived experience and role as a Lived Experience Practitioner at Neami at the National Suicide Prevention Conference 2024.


I lost my partner of 15 years, Steve, to suicide in 2011. Suicide bereavement is complex and isolating. Guilt, anger, stigma, shame, disconnection, shock, depression and relief are just some of the emotions that I experienced. These are common among others bereaved by suicide. I felt that I was not able to share these intense emotions to those close to me. It was too difficult for me to speak about and even more difficult for my loved ones to hear. A suicide-specific bereavement support group allowed me a safe space to open up, talk freely and try to make sense of what was a completely nonsensical situation. I attended a group facilitated by Support After Suicide and it was there that I connected with peers. It is that personal experience that inspired my later involvement with the LifeConnect suicide bereavement support group, with my own lived experience front and foremost.


Commencing in November 2020, the LifeConnect group meets once a month for two hours on a Wednesday evening, which never feels like enough. It was originally established as part of the Postvention arm of LifeConnect (Neami National), covering the Eastern Melbourne PHN catchment area. There is no cost to attend and participants have different lengths of time since their loss and different relationships with those who they lost to suicide. As the group has a fluid structure, participants can drop in and out of the group as they please. There are no mandatory attendance requirements. There are also no timeframe restraints. People can continue to attend for as long as they need. Each meeting starts with a check-in on each person. The discussion then goes where it needs to go based on the group’s input, creating an organic process. Two facilitators lead the group. Both have a lived experience of suicide bereavement themselves. This is an important factor in creating the ‘shared experience’ of the group.



Shame, stigma and taboo surround suicide. Personal shame is particularly powerful in these circumstances. Experiencing validation that these experiences are difficult, particularly from others who are bereaved by suicide, is incredibly powerful. Rather than offering solutions, the facilitators create an environment where the group can sit in the pain and acknowledge that all feelings and experiences are valid.


When it comes to all aspects of discussing suicide, safety must be one of the highest priorities. This is never more important than in suicide bereavement. Using the knowledge and experience of the lived experience facilitators ensures that safety is f irst, primarily owing to the shared experience with the participants of the group. A mutual understanding of confidentiality during meetings adds to this safety. A group agreement with the facilitators and participants, as well as everyone being encouraged to share their voice, creates a safe space for all.


There is no time limit on grief and this is particularly evident in suicide bereavement due to its complexity. The facilitators are aware of this and provide an open and f lexible environment in the group. Participants can drop in and out for as long as they require. The door is always open. Grief can also be incredibly debilitating, making everyday tasks feel impossible. Allowing this flexibility means that the group becomes more accessible to participants. There is no pressure to commit to something that may not be within their capability on any given day. There is also no pressure to actively contribute to a group session. For some people just sitting in a room with peers is enough support for them


Suicide bereavement is isolating. Allowing people to meet others experiencing the same isolation creates instant connection. This extends from the facilitators through to the participants. Suicide bereavement can increase suicide risk. By creating connection, this effectively contributes towards suicide prevention. The open and non-judgmental nature of the group allows relationships between the members to develop and strengthen organically. This results in a support network outside of the two hours a month that the group meets. Yearly dinners outside of the group has further strengthened this connection in a more casual environment.


The combined suicide bereavement of the facilitators spans a time frame of several decades. With this comes a wealth of experience that has occurred over a long journey of self-awareness and discovery. Being able to share this experience to the wider group allows a sense of hope to bloom, particularly in those people who are very early in their bereavement journey. Hearing that others who have experienced suicide bereavement can find meaning, purpose and joy in life allows them to envision a brighter future.

Information and advice

Due to the fluid and organic nature of the group, participants can share situations and circumstances that they may be struggling with at the time. More often than not, the facilitators or other members of the group have grappled with similar experiences themselves. This mutual sharing of information and advice is invaluable and happens organically within the group.


Lived experience facilitators run the bereavement support group with the honesty of their own experiences, whilst still providing hope for those who attend. The connections formed through the shared experience within this group are truly lifesaving, and that in itself is suicide postvention and prevention. The participants and facilitators join together to support each other and find the strength and courage to navigate an unexpected world every day. It is here we witness a ‘full circle’ moment. Starting from my own experience attending a group, to personally co-facilitating a group, to now seeing a group member going on to create and facilitate their own group. A cycle of hope for the future. We know we don’t have all the answers, but we do know how to validate and normalise this complex and isolating experience. We learn from each other. We support each other. We understand each other. Together. Lived experience needs to be a key component of suicide bereavement groups for maximum benefit to all those who attend, to create true and meaningful connection and hope.

Further Reading

Research articles examining lived experience-led suicide bereavement support groups are extremely limited, however, these two provide valuable insight:

“That feeling of solidarity and not being alone is incredibly, incredibly healing”: A qualitative study of participating in suicide bereavement peer support groups

Psychosocial Outcomes of Individuals Attending a Suicide Bereavement Peer Support Group: A Follow-Up Study


I would like to thank the participants of the LifeConnect Suicide Bereavement Group for their contributions to this presentation.