Karen Lascelles

Thesis title: Experiences and Support Needs of Adult Carers of Adults at Risk of Suicide: A Mixed Methods Doctoral Research Study

Start year: 2017

Contact: 17002640@brookes.ac.uk

Research topic

Experiences and Support Needs of Adults in England who Care for Adults they consider to be at Risk of Suicide: A Research Study

There are around 5,500 suicides each year in England and Wales.  Estimates suggest that for each suicide there are at least 20 suicide attempts.  Many more people experience suicidal thoughts and may come close to acting on these.  Society and the healthcare systems therein rely heavily on non paid informal carers to support individulas at risk of suicide.  Invariably these informal carers are family members or friends.  Given the high numbers of people who struggle with suicidal thoughts and behaviours we can safely assume there are many, many informal carers in England alone.

Research suggests that all too often informal carers' voices are not heard and their needs are not met.  In order to work towards changing this to ensure carers are given the support they need it is important we understand their caring experiences and associated support needs.


I’ve been a mental health nurse for 30 years and have worked in various fields of psychiatry, specialising in suicide and self-harm over the last 14 years. I work across adult and older adult age groups delivering training, supporting individuals and teams with complex cases involving suicide risk, supporting research and quality improvement work and leading on the Trust suicide prevention strategy. Clinically I work in psychiatric liaison, specifically with people who present to the Emergency Department with mental health needs (this is predominantly self-harm and suicidality).



My research seeks to know and understand the experiences and support needs of adults who provide unpaid informal care to another adult (family member, friend, significant other) whom they consider to be at risk of suicide. It is the carers perspective of suicide risk that is important here, and the carers experience of caring.

It is estimated that 10% (5.5 million) of the adult population in England has a caring role and that 1.5 million informal carers in the wider UK care for a person with a mental health condition. Whilst suicidality may not be a primary problem for all those who care for someone with mental health issues, it will be a concern for many. In the NHS Long Term Plan it is recognised that carers have a vital role in patient care and commitment to improving identification of and support for carers is stressed.

Existing research indicates a widespread lack of support and education for carers of people at risk of suicide. However, this research is predominantly made up of small qualitative studies, which cannot be generalised to populations beyond those studied. Furthermore, because some of this research involved participants who were bereaved by suicide, it may involve hindsight bias, particularly where the research was carried out a number of years after the bereavement occurred.  

Professional Doctorate in Nursing

I found out about the professional Doctorate in Nursing through word of mouth via my Trust. I then had an informal conversation with the course director and took it from there.

I was attracted to the part time nature of the programme, the Saturday teaching arrangement and the anticipation of being able to revisit the essence of nursing in the taught component of the programme. I enjoy the learning, the thinking, the discourse, being with my peers and tutors and the challenge of studying a higher degree. The challenge, however, can at times be overwhelming as I am doing the doctorate on top of a full time job, which is a senior and strategic role and it can therefore be difficult to fit everything in.

Although I started out with less confidence and a big bout of imposter syndrome I adapted to the DNURs student role relatively easily because of the support of my doctoral cohort; I cannot emphasise enough how fundamental this has been to making the experience as fulfilling as it has been.

Future plans

I will use my research to inform my practice with carers and my teaching of clinical staff and students. In addition, I hope to focus my post doctorate studies on developing and testing interventions for carers and will use the outcomes of my doctorate to contribute to this endeavour.

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