Dotted across the country are a number of volunteer groups supporting people after the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Warren Brown and Teresa Back launched the STAROS Support Group in the Hawke’s Bay on 12 March 2012.

They had each lost a son to suicide and were motivated to start STAROS because they had both previously benefited from talking with others who were going through the same kind of grief. STAROS is an acronym – Stu And Ryan Our Sons – and is a legacy run in their sons’ memory.

“After Stu died, I attended a support group for people affected by suicide In Tauranga,” Warren says. “I met Teresa at a seminar she had organised after I moved to the Hawke’s Bay in 2011.

"We talked about the positive support a group can provide and decided to start up STAROS as there had been nothing of its kind in the area for at least seven years.”

Starting the process of change

A series of steps is in place to make it as safe, and comfortable as possible, for people to join the group – and Warren now co-facilitates with Sandra Pell, who lost her father to suicide and stepped in to help when Teresa moved to Australia in 2013.

“Sandra and I meet with people individually first, so they have an opportunity to ask us anything they want to know about STAROS, as well as share their own story with us, if they want,” Warren says.

There is also an information sheet outlining the guidelines the group has agreed to: confidentiality, honesty, respecting others thoughts and opinions, freedom to express your emotions, and having no expectations.

Warren says that every time someone contacts them, it means they are choosing to change what is going on in their lives.

A lifelong journey begins with a hug

Warren has learnt a lot about supporting people bereaved by suicide. He says it is important to respect when someone is going through an incredibly difficult time, and be prepared to spend time with them and listen to what they have to say.

“We are on this bereavement journey for the rest of our lives. Often all people need is a hug and knowing that you genuinely care about what they are going through.

“We can’t fix what has happened for anyone, but having the opportunity to help them manage the impact on their lives is an amazing experience and extremely rewarding.”

In 2015, the Mental Health Foundation developed a research-based handbook about how to set up and run a support group for suicide loss in New Zealand. It includes advice and tips from Warren and other group facilitators from across New Zealand.

Read about Suicide bereavement