Responses and Emotions
Sources of Help
Befrienders centres offer confidential emotional support to anyone in crisis and persons bereaved by suicide often call Befrienders centres for support.
Losing someone close to you brings about intense grief and mourning. The loss of someone through suicide often results in different responses and emotions. Bereavement by suicide is prolonged. Shock, social isolation and guilt are often greater and the element of choice raises painful questions.
You may experience some or all of the following:
The sense of shock and disbelief following a death of this kind may be very intense. A common aspect of grief is recurring images of the death, even if this was not witnessed. Finding the body may be another traumatic and indelible event. It is a natural need to go over and over the very frightening and painful images of the death and the feelings these create.
Questioning - Why?
Bereavement through suicide often involves a prolonged search for an explanation of the tragedy. Many people eventually come to accept that they will never really know why. During the search for explanations, different members of the same family may have very different ideas as to why a death happened. This can be a strain on family relationships, particularly where an element of blame is involved. Suicide is never caused by one thing, event or person. Suicide is the result of a complex interaction between risk factors that include events, situations and personal problems that increase a person’s vulnerability, and protective factors, including beliefs, support and help received, that work to counterbalance increased vulnerability.
Questioning - Could it have been prevented?
It is common to go over and over how the death might have been prevented and how the loved one could have been saved. Everything can seem painfully obvious in retrospect. The 'what-ifs' may seem endless. Rewinding events is a natural and necessary way of coping with what has happened. Research suggests that some people bereaved by suicide feel more guilt, self-blame and self-questioning than those bereaved in some other way.
You may experience a sense of rejection. It is common to feel abandoned by someone who 'chooses' to die.
"I was upset that he hadn't come to talk to us. I think we all went through anger at some point. You think: 'How could you do this to us?' ".
A sister whose brother took his life.
Suicidal fears and feelings
Despair is a natural part of the grieving process, but after the suicide of a loved one hopelessness may be combined with fear for one's own safety. Identification with someone who has taken their life can be deeply threatening to one's own sense of security. You may suffer more anxiety than those bereaved in other ways and be more vulnerable to suicidal feelings.
When someone dies by suicide or other unexpected causes, it may attract public interest. The inquest or police investigation that may be demanded by law draws attention to the person who has died and to close relatives and friends. Attention from the media can be very stressful for bereaved relatives and friends, particularly where a death is reported in an insensitive or inaccurate manner.
Stigma and Isolation
Social attitudes to suicide are changing, but they may still limit the support that is available. The silence of others may reinforce feelings of stigma, shame and 'being different'. If others are embarrassed, uneasy or evasive about suicide, you may be left feeling intensely isolated. Opportunities to talk, remember and celebrate all aspects of a loved one's life and personality may be denied. A strong need to protect a loved one, and oneself, from the judgement of others may also be felt.
A mother writing about her son's death pointed out that we have never been told what to say to someone who has had a suicide in the family. She needed to hear the same thing that might be said to anyone else who had experienced the death of someone close: "I'm truly sorry for your pain and is there anything I can do? If you need to talk about it, I am a good listener. I've got a shoulder to cry on."
© The Royal College of Psychiatrists 1997 with additions by BW.
Taken from the Bereavement Information Pack by Kate Hill, Keith Hawton, Aslog Malmberg and Sue Simkin
Reproduced with kind permission from The Royal College of Psychiatrists