Suicide rarely occurs in isolation; the deceased’s family members and friends also feel the effects of suicide. For these people, the period after a suicide can be incredibly painful, especially given the social stigma that surrounds ending one’s own life.
Grieving After a Suicide
The grieving process after a loved one’s death is never easy. Common emotions experienced after a loved one dies include:
- Sense of abandonment.
These feelings may be even more pronounced when the deceased person has committed suicide.
Survivors of suicide in family members or friends may be angry at the deceased for committing suicide, or consumed with guilt because they were unable to prevent the death. Some people feel emotionally disconnected from the deceased because he or she chose suicide, while others search for some reason or meaning (although a rational reason for suicide is rarely available).
Some people feel relief after a suicide if the person who died abused drugs or alcohol, was aggressive or was abusive. People who commit suicide often suffer from mental disorders that make them difficult to live with Ã‘ no longer having to live with such challenges can generate a sense of relief. Often such emotions are quickly replaced with guilt for feeling relief after a loved one’s death.
Survivors may also perceive suicide as a malicious act. They may think that the deceased intended to cause pain and suffering by committing suicide. All of these reactions are normal responses to a suicide; grieving is a natural process and can proceed in many different ways.
Social Stigma and the Effects of Suicide
Social, cultural and religious attitudes toward suicide can complicate the grieving process. Many people feel uncomfortable acknowledging suicide, and may avoid offering condolences or support as a result. They may even act as if the death has not happened. As a survivor, you may also worry that other people blame you for the suicide.
Because of stigma, suicide survivors may distance themselves from others, cutting themselves off from friends and family who do try to offer support. Whether real or imagined, social attitudes toward suicide can isolate survivors.
Suicide After Effects and Mental Health
Suicide survivors are at risk for developing mental health problems, such as depression. Many people who commit suicide are themselves depressed, and depression runs in families. Even when genetics are not an issue, the shock and grief that follow a suicide may trigger a depressive episode.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the possible suicide after effects, especially for the individual who discovered the body. The risk of suicide is also higher amongst survivors of suicide Ã‘ partly due to grief, guilt or depression, and partly because the suicide has made the possibility of taking one’s own life all too real.
Support Services After a Suicide
Many survivors find suicide survivor support groups a valuable part of the healing process. In a suicide support group, people can share their experiences after a suicide with other survivors in a safe and nonjudgmental setting.
American Association of Suicidology Staff. (2008). Survivors of suicide fact sheet. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from the American Association of Suicidolgy website: www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=232&name=DLFE-23.pdf.
Canadian Mental Health Association Staff. (n.d.). Grief after suicide. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from the Canadian Mental Health Association website: www.cmha.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=3-101-103.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center Staff. (n.d.). Suicide survivors. Retrieved 17 May, 2010, from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center website: www.sprc.org/featured_resources/customized/pdf/survivors.pdf.