A proper, fitting explanation? Suicide bereavement and perceptions of the coroner’s verdict
Chapple, A., Ziebland, S., & Hawton, K.
Background: As in several other countries, inquiries after a suspected suicide in England and Wales now routinely seek to include both medico-legal and family perspectives on the character and motivations of the person who died. Little research attention, however, has been paid to the reactions of the bereaved to the coroner’s verdict. Aims: To explore people’s accounts of their acceptance or resistance to the verdict and the resources they draw upon in explaining their perspectives, especially when these contraindicate the coroner’s verdict. Methods: Indepth interviews with 40 people who had been bereaved by suicide, followed by qualitative analysis, combining thematic analysis with constant comparison. Results: Bereaved relatives who saw the suicide verdict as a correct reflection of events drew on the conventional constructions of suicide used by coroners, and (thus) the media. Relatives who resisted a suicide verdict referred to their privileged knowledge and beliefs about the person who had died, producing claims about their character, relationships, and motivations which often contradicted the conventional cues, such as a diagnosis of mental illness, previous attempts at suicide, method used, and suicide notes. For some relatives an open verdict was acceptable, even desirable, while for others it left too much uncertainty. Conclusions: The findings have implications for coroner’s practice, understanding varied responses of people bereaved by suicide, and for future research.