Forgotten but not gone: A heuristic literature review of sibling suicide bereavement


  • Leah Jane Royden School of Public Health & Psychosocial Studies, Auckland University of Technology



Sibling suicide, suicide bereavement, suicide survivors, sibling loss, bereaved by suicide


INTRODUCTION: It is often said that Aotearoa New Zealand suffers from a “culture of silence” around suicide. The sibling experience, it seems, forms a silence within that silence. Suicide- bereaved siblings face what has been termed a “double loss.” Their sibling is gone, and so
is their family as they knew it. Typically, they mourn both losses in isolation, the “forgotten bereaved.” Although Aotearoa New Zealand’s suicide rates are amongst the highest in

the developed world, there are currently no academic papers dedicated exclusively to the sibling experience of suicide loss. This has serious implications, as suicide-bereaved siblings experience significantly higher rates of mental illness compared to control groups even when pre-existing psychopathology, health problems, and social disadvantages are taken into consideration. In addition, their own risk of suicide has been found to double.

METHOD: This heuristic literature review aims to clarify and summarise what research focused on the sibling experience of suicide bereavement has highlighted so far, drawing on the author’s lived experience to examine key themes of guilt, “unacceptable” anger, social stigmatisation, self-judgement, isolation, and the shattering of relational trust.

FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS: Siblings cannot be expected to “seek” help, it needs to be offered—strongly and repeatedly. With this in mind, potential implications for mental health practice with suicide-bereaved siblings will be discussed, as well as broader social initiatives and areas in need of future research.


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How to Cite

Royden, L. J. (2021). Forgotten but not gone: A heuristic literature review of sibling suicide bereavement. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(2), 19–31.



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