Dismantling the stigma of suicide one brick at a time

Support provided by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity comes in many forms.

Simply, it supports personnel – serving or retired, Regulars or Reserves – and their families of UK Armed Forces. People supported range from the last few WWII veterans and their spouses to those of more recent or forgotten conflicts, as well as those serving at home or abroad in 2024.

But “support” is a vague term. Essentially, SSAFA aims to improve and change lives. This includes everything from getting a veteran support with debt, addiction and housing advice, or training volunteer mentors to guide a service leaver into Civvy Street.

Help SSAFA gives also extends to the families of servicemen and women who have died, regardless of the cause of death. 

As the headline suggests, this article contains refences to suicide.

Ten years ago, Angela’s husband, Robert, took his own life while serving in the British Army. 

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Shaw had served for 30 years, with tours in Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Kosovo. 

At the time of his death, aged just 52, he was deputy commander of the Land Warfare Centre at Warminster, Wiltshire.

“There are no words to describe anything to do with finding my husband after his death,”

Angela says. After Robert’s death, Angela’s focus went to her children. In addition to the stress of caring for her grieving family, she also saw and felt the stigma attached to suicide and the lack of support for those bereaved by suicide.

In 2019 Angela heard about SSAFA’s Bereavement Support Groups and reached out to us.

SSAFA’s support group for military families affected by suicide gave her the opportunity to

share a space with others who, like Angela, have walked their own paths of grief, bereavement, and trauma.

“It was incredible. I was astonished,” Angela recalls. “Within the first couple of minutes, I heard the thing that I’d never heard in all those years before: ‘We’re here for you and if we can help, we will, and if we can’t we’ll direct you…’ I was completely blown away.” 

Give or take, around 185,000 men and women serve in the UK Armed Forces, at home and overseas, helping to keep our nation and allies safe. Of those, around 16,000 leave every year after finishing their military service. The vast majority come out better for the experience and go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

However, some struggle during and due to their service, or when making their transition into civilian life; in some cases, reaching the lowest levels of despair and loneliness, feeling they have nowhere to go.

Tragically, we weren’t able to help Robert. But for as long as the men and women who serve or have served our country and their families need somewhere to turn to for help and support, our work must continue.

If you, or someone you know within the UK Armed Forces family has been affected by bereavement, then support from SSAFA is available.

In addition to Forcesline (listed below), SSAFA offers three support groups, providing events which facilitate peer support, a safe space to grieve and an opportunity for respite.

SSAFA’s support groups provide a network of people who have been through a similar tragedy, giving you the opportunity to talk though your emotions with an understanding compassionate group. 

Each support group runs one or two day events throughout the year, where beneficiaries can meet up together and receive peer-to-peer support, facilitated in a safe environment.

Bereaved Support Group
This group is for anyone in the family unit (18+) who has suffered a bereavement of a veteran or Serving Armed Forces Personnel.

Military Families Affected by Suicide
For anyone in the family unit (18+) who has been affected by the loss of a loved one through suicide of a veteran or Serving Armed Forces Personnel.

Families of Wounded Injured and Sick Personnel (FISP)
The FISP support group is for a spouse/partner/parent or carer (18+) of Armed Forces personnel who have been wounded or suffered an injury, or sickness.

To learn more – and to join – please visit ssafa.org.uk/get-help/mental-wellbeing/bereavement-support-groups.

These and other services provided by SSAFA – in 2022 alone, SSAFA helped nearly 60,000 serving and former UK Armed Forces personnel and family members – while free to those who need them, cost money to deliver.

You can play your part in helping former, current, and future generations of the military family by donating to make this possible, from operating our helpline, Forcesline, to mentoring service leavers and running the crucial family support groups as detailed above. 

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