Impacted By Suicide – months

The inquest process

An inquest is a public court hearing to establish who has died, and how, when and where the death happened. A coroner must hold an inquest if it was not possible to find the cause of death from the post-mortem examination, or if the death was sudden. Therefore, there is always an inquest when someone may have died by suicide.

The inquest may be held with a jury, depending on the circumstances of the death but it is important to know that it is not a trial and its purpose is to discover the facts of the death, not to apportion blame. No one can be ‘found guilty’ and no one will be ‘blamed’ for the death.

The main inquest hearing should normally take place within six months or as soon as is practical after the death has been reported to the coroner. Some cases are more complex and the wait is longer. The inquest will be held locally to where the person died, rather than where they lived.

The inquest process may feel quite complicated, so we have put together a page for further reading, which we hope explains what might happen, and why. You can also ask for support from your coroner’s office, from the Coroner’s Court Support Service, and from any organisation you may be in contact with you.

Frequently Asked Questions about inquests

Unsure of what to wear to an inquest?

You can wear whatever you like to an inquest. You are not required to wear formal clothes, but if you would like to, you can.

What to bring?

It might be helpful to bring some water or other soft drink with you, and anything you feel will help you to get through the day. As with any court, you will not be allowed to bring sharp or prohibited items into the room.

Will I be found guilty of the death?

No. The inquest is not a criminal hearing, no one can be found ‘guilty’ and the process is not to appropriate blame. You may feel guilty for the death for many reasons. This is quite normal, but you will not be viewed as guilty at the inquest as the purpose is not to ‘blame’ anyone.

What if I don’t want an inquest to happen?

An inquest has to happen by law, even if you would rather it not happen. You do not have to attend the inquest, unless the coroner calls you as a witness.

The media

For reasons that can sometimes be hard to understand, a death by suicide is often considered newsworthy.

You may find yourself approached by journalists and photographers for details of your loved one and the circumstances of their death. This can be particularly true when the death has taken place in a public place, or if it is a young person who has died. Most inquests are open to the public so other people, including the media, can be there.

Despite the pressure that a journalist can try to apply, remember that you do not have to co-operate and you do not have to say anything about the person who died.

There are clear media guidelines issued by Samaritans about how to report appropriately on suicide, and you should complain if you feel these have been broken: in fact, Samaritans’ communication team can help you make the complaint and offer you support.

You can also complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation if you have been subjected to intrusive enquiries or if you are concerned that coverage may affect other people’s safety.

Social media

You may want to keep what has happened private, yet versions of what has happened may already be circulating on the internet. This is one reason why, although it is so hard and painful, it is usually best to be honest about how the person died.

After a death, social media pages are also used as a place for people’s memories and photographs of the person who has died. Many people talk about the comfort that sharing recollections can bring. It can be a helpful way to continue to mark birthdays and other important anniversaries.

If you want to, you could use the social media accounts of the person who died to inform their contacts and, maybe to establish a place for people to remember them. Different sites, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram have different procedures for how to operate or ‘memorialise’ (that is, leave untouched) the account of someone who has died.

Help for you

Everyone grieves differently, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Grieving for someone has a definite start point but no definitive end point. The truth is, you will always carry what has happened inside you.

The time after someone close has died is the time when you may be feeling most exhausted, confused and anxious. It is so hard to understand what needs to be done and even harder to do it. Accept any help you are offered by people you trust – for example, to produce and post letters, to look up relevant phone numbers or to sort through the paperwork. Check what you actually must do (for example, respond to any requests or questions from the coroner’s office) and what you feel you have to do (for example, tidying up, letting people know) and use any energy you have on the ‘musts’.

There are many professionals who are there to help you through this time, so talk to the coroner’s officer, your funeral director, your GP or to one of the support services about any concerns you may be having, or to ask them to guide you through the things you need to do.