Public hazards or private tragedies? An exploratory study of the effect of coroners' procedures on those bereaved by suicide

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Mar;56(5):1033-45. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00097-7.


This study in the UK examined how the suicide inquest can affect bereaved relatives and impact upon their grief. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with a sample of 16 individuals bereaved by suicide in order to explore their experiences of the inquest. Thematic analysis was used to identify recurrent problems and their effects. Several interviewees had been significantly traumatised by the inquest process. They were particularly disturbed by the judicial atmosphere, media activity, the invasion of privacy, and giving evidence. Exposure to graphic evidence, delayed inquests, confiscated suicide notes and the inquest's failure to provide explanation and deal with blame also presented problems. Difficulties were compounded by a widespread lack of preparation and communication prior to the event. The inquest adversely affected resolution of grief in two main ways: by exacerbating common grief reactions associated with bereavement by suicide, such as, shame, guilt and anger; and, by interfering with necessary grief work, most notably, the task of arriving at a meaningful and acceptable account of the death. Other interviewees described more positive experiences, one of whom regarded the inquest as helpful to their resolution of grief. Whereas these results may not typify all inquest experiences, the findings do suggest that a number of reforms are necessary to avoid the possibility of the inquest distressing this vulnerable group. Ideally, there should be a clear protocol for dealing with bereaved relatives. This is currently lacking in the coroners' system.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Autopsy / psychology
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Coroners and Medical Examiners*
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Forensic Medicine / standards
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Judicial Role*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology
  • Psychology, Child
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spouses / psychology
  • Suicide / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Suicide / psychology
  • United Kingdom