Victoria research examines young men’s experiences of suicide bereavement

Mumbai: New research from Victoria University of Wellington reveals that a key aspect of young men’s experiences of suicide bereavement is ubiquitous silence.

In the first study of its kind, Dr Chris Bowden, who is a lecturer in Victoria’s School of Education and recently graduated with a PhD in Health, found that young men aged between 17-25 who lost a close male friend to suicide, suffered, grieved and eventually changed in silence.

His research found that the men experienced four types of silence following the suicide of a close friend: personal, private, public and analytic silence. “Early on, the men were unable to describe what they were experiencing to others,” says Dr Bowden. “They also chose to keep quiet, be stoical, suppress and control their emotions and keep their grief private. In public and social situations, the words and actions of others and their fear of being judged as weak and vulnerable often silenced them”. Dr Bowden says they chose to break their silence only with those they trusted, who understood what they were going through and who “were there for them”. “The men also sought out quiet places to reflect on, analyse and make sense of their experience and how it had transformed them,” he says.

Dr Bowden conducted in-depth “lived experience” interviews with the young men over a period of a year. These took place as “go-alongs” or “ride-alongs” while the men were working on cars, at barbeques, during events such as burnouts, and while playing PlayStation or Xbox. “In order to understand their experience as it was lived by them it was important to build trust and Dr Chris Bowden, Lecturer, Victoria’s School of Educationrapport, and to understand who they were and the friends they had lost,” he says.

Previous studies of suicide bereavement have focused on the experiences of parents, parentally-bereaved children, younger adolescents at school who have experience of peer suicide and female college students. Dr Bowden says the studies of men’s experiences of suicide bereavement are largely missing and men have remained silent and silenced.

“A lack of research examining young men’s experiences of suicide bereavement means that their grief may go unnoticed, be minimized, or even misunderstood,” he says.

Dr Bowden recommends that health professionals, families/whānau and friends learn to see, listen to and interpret the silence of men in order to better understand their experience and need for care and support.

Dr Bowden has a background in education and professional development around suicide prevention and supporting people after a suicide death. His findings are being used to educate health professionals and the public about how to support young men after suicide.