The police may be the first to inform the next of kin that the death has happened. They also have a responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the death and report to the coroner. For the family, this can feel like an additional burden at a time of pain and confusion. However, most officers try to handle these situations and inquiries with appropriate sensitivity and with an awareness of the needs of the bereaved. If you feel that your case was not handled appropriately and you wish to make a complaint, you can obtain more information from Independent Police Conduct Authority here.
Death of someone who was under the care or custody of another agency
Sometimes the death happens whilst the person is under the care or custody of another agency, for example, they may have been receiving mental health treatment or they may have been in prison. The investigation of the coroner is likely to include reviewing the involvement of third parties such as police, prison or mental health teams. You should raise any concerns you have during the investigation. The organisation involved may also conduct its own review or investigation. If you have any questions or concerns, you may wish to raise them with the relevant agency and if appropriate, seek independent advice:
Feel free to contact Life Matters for support and guidance on how to make a complaint if you have concerns about the care that your loved one received whilst under the care of services. You may also request your loved one’s medical files and Life Matters can also help you with that. District Health Boards (DHBs) should conduct an investigation and classify the suspected suicide as either a Severity Assessment Code 1 (SAC1) or a Severity Assessment Code 2 (SAC2) event and should do a Serious Incident Review. You should be invited to that review. The DHB should forward any such information to the Health Quality and Safety Commission of New Zealand. This information, called Reportable Event Brief, is usually withheld from you. You can request to see this.
Learn more here.
2. Health and Disability Commissioner
If your loved one was under the care of a service such as mental health services and died whilst under their care, you may want to make a complaint about the service provided to them if you have any concerns. The Health and Disability Commissioner has a memorandum of understanding with the coroner and most complaints will be looked into by HDC first before the coroner does the final inquiry. However, it can also happen the other way around. Life Matters can help you with any such complaint or you may ask the HDC advocates to support you. HDC will appoint an independent expert opinion when it takes on an investigation.
Click here to see where to make a complaint.
The commissioner may also refer your case to the Director of Proceedings or you may make the complaint directly to the Director. Your lawyer may be able to assist you further to take this to the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
Click here to see an example of a recent case investigated by the Mental Health Commissioner.
3. Medical and Nursing Council Complaints
After an HDC investigation is completed and if there were breaches of the HDC code you may make a complaint to:
Te Ao Maramatanga NZ College of Mental health Nurses.
Police always inform a coroner when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or in suspicious circumstances. If a general practitioner (GP) or doctor is unsure what caused a person’s death, they will report it to the coroner. The coroner will find out when, where, how and why the death happened. They’ll also work out whether anything can be done differently so that similar deaths can be prevented.
Talk to your coroner to find out what suits you best as the coroner may want to make a finding in their office (chambers) which is called a hearing “on papers”. If a coroner needs to hear from witnesses in person, they will hold a hearing in court. This is called an inquest.
We all react differently when we hear the decision about the cause of death. Some feel that it is a helpful “milestone” and that they have received some answers or that they can progress. Others find it unsatisfactory, particularly if the outcome differs from their expectation or does not provide the answers they had hoped for.This can be a source of additional stress.
Life Matters can assist you if need any questions answered or support during such an inquiry.
For more information click here.
Interest by the media is often an issue faced by those bereaved by suicide. The press are most likely to report at the time of death, they may also attend and report on the inquest. Whether they choose to do so is not always predictable.
Unfortunately, you will not have complete control over what the media choose to report. However, you may be able to influence them. Read media guidelines here.
Funerals are an important part of saying goodbye to the person we loved. The type of funeral you choose to have will depend on your personal beliefs, values and culture. There are many decisions that need to be taken when planning a funeral – some people find that this gives them something to focus on, others find that it is too overwhelming. You may like to ask someone to help you with arranging the funeral.
The funeral can take place once the body has been released by the coroner.
There are costs associated with funerals and this can be a source of worry for some. There may be financial assistance available depending on your circumstances. If your loved one had contact with health services you may be eligible for financial assistance with funeral costs from ACC.
For more information about financial assistance for family members please contact ACC.
You may find that you are faced with some concerns regarding your finances as a result of losing income or find that you are unable to return to work for an extended period. Common questions include:
- How will I pay the bills?
- How can I make sure that I don’t lose my home?
- Are there debts I need to repay?
- What happens to benefits?
- What was in the will?
The answers to these questions will be unique to you and your circumstances. You may want to seek professional support or advice. In some cases, there may be benefits available to you. Contact these parties to get more information about your finances after the death of a loved one.
Time off and returning to work
We each react differently to bereavement and have different needs. Many of us take some time off work after the loss of someone we were close to. Different companies also have different policies and approaches. It may be difficult but we recommend you speak clearly about your needs and personal situation with your employer.
For free counselling and support ask your workplace to help with Employment Assistance Programme.
How to support a bereaved friend or someone in your workplace
Caring for and supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be challenging. Many feel unable to provide adequate support and struggle to understand the depth of distress. Some have difficulty knowing what to say or do and feel awkward, uncomfortable and concerned about saying the wrong thing. People worry that they may say the wrong thing to their friend. Others worry about what the bereaved person is saying or doing and whether it is normal. The stigma attached to suicide can make this even harder. Many bereaved people speak of how others have treated them in the aftermath and what upset them. Mostly it is because people were uncomfortable and avoided them.
Here are some good practical ideas for how to be supportive.
- Visit them and listen to their story.
- Do practical things for them such as making cups of tea, making a meal, cleaning the house.
- Fetch their children from school or take them to sports, practices and events.
- Take your friend for a walk.
- Say their loved one’s name as it would hurt more if you don’t.
- Don’t avoid them and don’t pretend it never happened.
Beyond Blue is a very helpful resource to use. Click here to read more about supporting someone.