Losing a loved one to suicide is surely one of the most traumatic events anyone can experience. IAN CRAIG finds out more about the help available to those grieving the death of a partner, friend or family member in the most tragic of circumstances.

EVERY year between 300 and 350 people in Wales, and around 6,000 across the UK, kill themselves.

When someone takes their own life thoughts naturally go to what led them to take that final step, and if anything could have been done to help them before it was too late.

But what about those they leave behind? Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners and friends are left bereft, often with no warning and no answer to why their loved one felt suicide was the only answer.

And now a study by the University of Manchester's Centre for Mental Health and Safety is looking into the impact losing someone to suicide can have, the effectiveness of those support services which are available, and where they are lacking.

Sharon McDonnell - who lost her brother to suicide in 1990 - is one of the researchers leading the project.

She has said it is only through people who have themselves experienced suicide sharing their experiences that services for others in the same situation would improve.

Writing in a report published last year she said: "I do believe that nobody can possibly understand how it feels to be bereaved through suicide unless they have experienced it themselves.

"Therefore, if an adequate and appropriate support service is ever to be provided, it is necessary for those bereaved by suicide to find the courage to share their painful thoughts and experiences to enable professionals to acquire a clearer understanding of the emotional pain suffered by those bereaved by suicide.

"It is also important to note the vulnerability and needs of professionals who are often anxious and uncertain how to respond to those bereaved by suicide.

"I believe that by sharing my personal experiences of loss and my expertise in suicide bereavement, might help to reduce stigma, increase understanding of the vulnerabilities and needs of those bereaved by suicide and increase the confidence of those they come into contact with who they are dependent upon for their sensitivity, compassion and care."

The team is running an online survey open to anyone in the UK aged 18 or older who has been affected by suicide - which has so far received more than 6,000 responses.

The anonymous survey will close on Friday, August 31. For more information or to take part visit research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/cmhs/research/Impactofsuicide

One of the campaign's strongest supporters is Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, who has frequently spoken out about the importance of improving support for people with mental health issues.

"It is incredibly important that we improve support for people bereaved by suicide, not just because we know the servies are just not there at the moment, but also because someone is at a much higher risk of taking their own life if they've lost a family member to suicide," she said.

"So, by supporting families, you're helping to prevent suicide."

The Labour AM added: "Anyone who has been affected by suicide will tell you it's a deeply dark place families are left in and it's vital to find hope for the future.

"This campaign is about dong that, about giving families the hope that something will get better, but we need a big response to the survey so we can get governments across the UK to listen.

"It's also important to remember people who have lost someone to suicide are often not people who have got much of a voice because of the stigma, the reluctance to speak out about it, so this is a really important way to give a voice to people affected by suicide."

Ms Neagle, who also leads the Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, which recently carried out a major inquiry into young people’s mental health, added she believed encouraging openness about the issue was key.

“It is difficult because, in my experience, people are naturally frightened and nervous,” she said. “They don’t know what to say.

“But my personal view is that it is better to say something.

“You don’t always get it right – it’s ok to say ‘I don’t know what to say but I really want to help and I’m there for you’. It’s always better in my experience to have that contact.

“I know people who’ve said they’ve had friends cross the street to avoid them because they just don’t know what to say. It’s important to be there for people and recognise it’s ok to feel nervous and unsure and just do what you can.”

The campaign has also been backed by ex-Wales goalkeeping legend Neville Southall, who today lives in Blaenau Gwent and works with disadvantaged children at an Ebbw Vale school.

The footballing hero has 144,000 followers on Twitter and often allows his account to be used by campaigns and causes he supports. And in May he allowed Dr McDonnell to use his account to spread the word about the survey, which she said led to more than 400 men taking part in just 48 hours.

Bridgend MP Madeline Moon also praised the study in Parliament in November last year.

But it's not just politicians and other public figures stepping up to support those struggling with issues around suicide.

Last month we reported laminated notes with positive messages and the details of the Samaritans suicide helpline had appeared on bridges in Newport, Cwmbran in Pontypool.

But who is responsible for the notes remains a mystery, with the Samaritans saying they did not put them up.

But Samaritans Cymru does provide a wide range of other services.

Policy and communications officer Emma Gooding said: “Losing someone to suicide can cause a unique sense of grief - there is stigma surrounding death by suicide and people often don’t know where to turn.

"We would encourage people to use ‘Help is at Hand’ which is a specific resource for those bereaved by suicide.

"It is also vital we work to normalise talking about feelings and encourage openness as a form of help seeking and early intervention to reduce the stigma.

"We must work together to provide better information and support to those bereaved or affected by suicide. If you’re struggling to cope, please reach out and talk to someone you know or please remember you can always talk to Samaritans round the clock."

Help is at Hand is available at supportaftersuicide.org.uk/support-guides/help-is-at-hand-wales while the Samaritans offer 24 hour support via 116 123.

A range of resources are also available from Mind Cymru - for information call 02920 39 51 23 or visit mind.org.uk

The Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM, offers help and support to men aged 15 to 35 via 0800 58 58 58, while dedicated support for LGBT people in Wales is also available on 0800 840 2069 or via line@lgbtcymruhelpline.org.uk

Charity Winston's Wish supports bereaved children and their families. For information call 08088 020 021 or visit winstonswish.org.uk

All schools in Wales also offer counselling for children.

GPs are also able to refer to services for people suffering psychological issues as a result of bereavement, or those considering suicide.