Survivors of Suicide: Grief and Healing

Merely Me Health Guide
  • On this weekend, November 19th, was designated as International Survivors of Suicide Day. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has many resources to help if you are trying to cope with the loss of your loved one to suicide. They state that every 40 seconds someone in the world dies by suicide and every 41 seconds someone is left behind to make sense of it. But how do family members, friends, and loved one’s make sense of this type of unspeakable loss? Suicide leaves so many unanswered questions such as “Why did this happen?” and “Is this my fault?” Grief following suicide can be especially complex because the loss is sudden and unexpected. Survivor’s of suicide may be at risk for depression themselves and even suicide. In this post we are going to try to answer some of the frequently asked questions about suicide. In addition we are also going to give you some resources to help those of you who are struggling to cope with the loss of a friend or family member in the aftermath of suicide.

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    Why do people think about, attempt, or commit suicide?


    I am going to answer this question from my own personal perspective. If you suffer from depression or bipolar disorder you are more likely to think about suicide than those who do not have a mood disorder. Also people who are dealing with a chronic medical condition and especially one involving chronic pain may also be more at risk for suicidal ideation. Great loss can trigger thoughts of suicide as well as feeling that you are trapped in a life situation where you see no resolution.


    If the person is depressed, the cognitions of the depressed mind play in the background like a foreboding mantra: “You are no good.” “You don’t deserve to live.” “You are a burden.” “Nobody cares.” What the suicidal person does not realize is that depression lies. It tells you untruths and with each repeated thought, the grooves become deeper and more entrenched, until the person fully believes what he or she is thinking. I don’t believe that most suicidal people truly wish to die. They simply want a way to end the incredible pain they are feeling. I have felt this way in my life and it is a feeling like no other, all encompassing darkness. You get tunnel vision and there is this intense focus on how to end things. Many people who are having suicidal thoughts may feel ashamed. It may be difficult to reach out for help.


    In my situation part of my brain which was still rational and logical helped me to make a decision to call a suicide hotline. Please know that I had to call several times. The system isn’t perfect. But you have to keep trying. I was finally put through to a wonderful counselor who said the right things to turn my thinking around.


    Here is some of our conversation that I can remember:


    Me: “I feel like a burden. My family would be better off without me.”


    Hotline Counselor: “I have seen the children, spouses, and friends who are left behind after a suicide. I can tell you that in all my years I have never heard any of them say that they were better off without their loved one. The pain and suffering over losing you is something they will live with for the rest of their lives.”


    These were the words that snapped me around and made me realize the full impact of what I was contemplating. The counselor told me what I already knew but the depression was blocking access to. Depression is not always rational or logical.  His words turned me around enough to hang on and get some help.


    Is this my fault?


    One of the primary emotions felt by survivors of suicide is guilt. “How could I have not known?” “What did I do or not do?” Mixed into the guilt may be feelings of anger and rage, “How could they have done this to me?” This is why grief after suicide is so complex. There is no peace or easy resolution. In some cases the person who attempts suicide will try again. It is like a dial which keeps turning to this same “solution” when the individual has thoughts and feelings they feel they cannot endure. There are some people who, despite traditional psychiatric treatments, will keep resorting to suicidal behavior. It can be an extremely difficult cycle to break and some families feel powerless and at the mercy of this entity which may seem separate from their loved one.

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    Children are especially at risk for feeling guilt after such a trauma. My father died when I was just four years old. Although he did not commit suicide in the traditional sense I felt he did take his life by continuing to drink after doctors told him he would have only months to live if he did not cease drinking alcohol. Children tend to blame themselves for such loss because they have no capability to make sense of it. I thought for years that perhaps I wasn’t good enough or that if I was a more perfect little girl that my father would have overcome his addiction. It took years of therapy to understand that this was a false assumption, a fantasy to give me false hope that I have more control than I do.


    The only peace I have found in the matter is to know that we do not have control over others. It is a scary proposition because then we must contend with the fact that bad things can happen regardless of what we do or don’t do. I also know that guilt never helps the healing process. It complicates and prolongs the pain. On a site called a message is given to survivors:


    The Suicide Was Not Your Fault.


    To fully embrace and accept this message you will need help from a support group or therapist.


    Are there Resources for Suicide Survivors?


    The following articles, information and links to organizations may be of benefit to you if you have lost a loved one to suicide. Please note that Health Central is not responsible for the functionality or usefulness of any external links given to resources. It is up to you to decide if any particular resource is of value to your unique situation.



    American Association of Suicidology


    Suicide Bereavement Support Groups


    Compassionate Friends: Supporting Family After a Child Dies


    Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Survivor Resources


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    Suicide and Suicidal Behavior


    Suicide Prevention Resources


    How to Get Help for Your Suicidal Loved One

Published On: November 20, 2011