Suicide loss survivor
Individuals who have lost a loved one or someone they knew to suicide (also commonly known as suicide survivors)
The grief from any loss can be difficult. However the experience of a suicide loss may be more challenging, and grieving can be complex and traumatic. Bereavement following a suicide is usually different from bereavement following death by natural causes, both in kind and intensity, and there is much greater trauma. Below are some circumstances that sets apart the challenges associated with a suicide loss.
Stigma, shame, and isolation. There is considerable stigma around mental health and suicide. While suicide is not a mental health disorder, there is a correlation between both factors. One of the reasons why there is a heavy stigma surrounding suicide is because many religions consider the act as a sin. As a result, suicide loss survivors may therefore be reluctant to acknowledge or disclose the cause of an individual’s demise.
With the many negative connotations associated with suicide, suicide survivors may feel uncomfortable to be open to speak and discuss about their loss. This discomfort may then manifest into keeping the suicide as a hidden secret from distant family and friends. The confusion and shame associated with the suicide may inevitably lead to isolation from their social network for a prolonged period.
Suicide maybe perceived as a sign of weakness or cowardice; and a possible result of dysfunction in one’s family. With the intention to have a closure of a sudden death, blame may be attributed to the family for not being able to prevent the premature death from occurring. This environment will therefore undermine the presence of support in a family.
Intense negative emotions. Unlike a natural death, the victim of a suicide is also the perpetrator. In addition to the grief, the nature of a death by suicide can cause stress, guilt, shame, anger, anxiety and distress to suicide survivors. A person who dies by suicide may be experiencing intolerable pain in their life or battling a mental health condition. At the same time, the act of suicide may also seem like they have chosen to leave behind their loved ones. As a result, the intense feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment after a suicide death becomes prominent.
Feeding the curiosity. The narrative to a suicide can help in reducing the uncertainties of the factors leading to a suicide death. We ask many “what if” questions in hopes to find an alternative to a devastating outcome. What if we’d paid more attention? Questions like these after a suicide loss can be extreme and self-punishing — often condemning the self for failing to prevent the premature death and successfully intervening the act of self-harm. In such instances, survivors overestimate their role and their ability to control the unfortunate outcome.
Research estimates that an average of at least 6 suicide survivors are affected by the suicide of a closed one. Many suicide survivors face heightened risk of suicide themselves because they experience intense feelings of guilt, abandonment, shame and anger, on top of the usual sadness and loneliness that accompany bereavement. Exposure to a death by suicide is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders and suicide. It is therefore important that survivors receive much needed support.
Suicide survivors come together once a year to commemorate International Survivors of Suicide (ISOS) Loss Day together with others who have also been affected by a suicide. Join a community of suicide loss survivors to find comfort and gain understanding as we share stories of healing and hope on 17 November 2018. You can find out more about ISOS Loss Day here.
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