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  • Writer's picturePaige Wilcken

How Suicide Affects Others

I remember the first time I found out that someone I knew had died by suicide. I was shocked. It happened when I was in junior high. To find out that a high school student died in this way was heartbreaking. She was my friend's older sister and someone my older brother had dated. Although I had only met her a few times before, and maybe talked to her once, it was heartbreaking nonetheless.


Approximately 85% of U.S. residents personally know someone who died by suicide. That means that most of us have been affected by suicide's aftermath at some point in our lives. Whether it be because we know of someone who had committed suicide or know a family that has had to struggle through the loss a family member, we have a glimpse of the hard times that loved ones face. Let's look at how exactly suicide affects the loved ones who are left behind after a suicide.



Grief


Grief is not just experienced as one feeling, there are often many emotions associated with the feeling of grief. Some of these include loneliness, sadness, disbelief, regret, and helplessness. Not only this, but grief comes with many side affects as well. These include change of appetite, sleepiness, loss of interest in enjoyable things, and having difficulty doing everyday tasks and routines.


Of course, with time it becomes easier to manage the loss of a loved one. However, that loss can stay with you forever, no matter how much time passes.


Confusion


Confusion is a common feeling due to the death being a surprise and not knowing that there was ever a struggle in the deceased individual's life. This includes family members not even realizing that depression or suicidal thoughts was something that the individual had to deal with. This lack of knowledge brings up many questions and as a result, those left behind have to deal with confusion.


Others have trouble coming to terms around the suicide itself. They think about the steps leading up to the death and wonder if the death was an accident rather than intentional. This is especially true if there is no closure after the event such as a note that was left behind. Even then, some questions will likely remain unanswered.



Relief


In some aspects, loved ones can feel relief that the victim of suicide no longer has to struggle with their mental illness anymore. Their death has allowed an escape from this difficult life which they no longer have to endure. This feeling that may be felt by loved ones can also cause some guilt, which in all reality is actually a normal part of the grief process.


Guilt


Not only can guilt be felt because of some feelings of relief and peace, but there is often other reasons for a feeling of guilt. The main reason is due to the feeling that a family member or loved one could have prevented it or had done more. Some blame themselves that they were at fault because they should have picked up on the warning signs.


Parents of children who died by suicide are the most likely to experience the most guilt. They likely experience more than children or even spouses. They think back on when they lost their temper or yelled at their child and think that they are maybe are at fault.


No matter the reason for feeling guilty, it is very common and even a normal reaction to the death of a loved one but especially to death by suicide. Whatever the reason for the feeling of guilt, it is important to remember that most suicide completers were struggling with a mental illness. Remembering this can help prevent more of the self-blame that survivors often have.


If these guilty feelings persist, it is important to seek outside support and help so that it doesn't begin to inhibit well-being.



Stigma and Isolation


Unfortunately, suicide often leaves stigma in its wake. People will often treat the family of the suicide victim differently than before which can result in isolation. Mix this with the fear of talking about what happened and extreme isolation ensues.


You can probably guess what happens when people feel isolated and alone for a long period of time. If you don't, just look at what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people felt their mental health go downhill drastically. This is what can happen when people are isolated from others; it makes anxiety and depression more likely and can even exacerbate a current mental illness.


Trauma


Trauma is something that family members and loved ones are likely to experience after the suicide of their loved one. Often those closest to the victim are the ones to find the body after the act. This leaves a horrible picture in their mind that will likely never be forgotten. Some even witness the suicide take place which can cause significant distress, horror, and reminders of it that will stay with them for a long time.


Those left behind after a suicide are at a higher risk for PTSD than others who have simply lost a loved one. It depends on various factors on whether or not the loved ones of suicide victims will have lasting trauma or not. However, the trauma of it all is something that should not be downplayed.



Changes in Social Relationships


Since suicide is often complex and there may be many unknowns, families and other loved ones usually do not know how to react. Some families keep the details surrounding the individual's death a secret to younger family members. This can create some dysfunction among family relationships because the secrets that are kept tend to push each family member apart.


Another tendency of the suicide survivors is that of not wanting to discuss the suicide with others. Usually due to a fear of hurting others with the details or because the are afraid of being blamed or judged. This sense of shame that the families and other loved ones carry around can be extremely isolating.


Thankfully, our society has been addressing this important topic of suicide more and more. Suicide survivors are now becoming more comfortable with talking about the death of their loved one due to others becoming more supportive of them and their hardship.


Conclusion


So, so, so many feelings are felt after a loved one dies of suicide. Many of these effects can be eased through resources provided by many wonderful organizations. Some of these include the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE).


Be sure to take some time to check out some of these resources, because you never know when you or someone you know may need a little extra help.



Sources


Cerel, J., Jordan, J. R., & Duberstein, P. R. (2008). The impact of suicide on the family. Crisis, 29(1), 38-44. https://www.johnjordanphd.com/pdf/pub/Cerel.pdf.


Lee, E., Kim, S., & Enright, R. D. (2019). Beyond Grief and Survival: Posttraumatic Growth Through Immediate Family Suicide Loss in South Korea. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 79(4), 414–435. https://doi.org/10.1177/0030222817724700


Soong, J. (2010). 6 common depression traps to avoid. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/depression-traps-and-pitfalls.


Suicide - family and friends. Better Health Channel. (n.d.). https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/suicide-family-and-friends.


Tal Young, I., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., Seay, K., Ilapakurti, M., & Zisook, S. (2012). Suicide bereavement and complicated grief. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 14(2), 177–186. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2012.14.2/iyoung


Tracy, N. (2019). Effects of suicide on family members, loved ones. HealthyPlace. https://www.healthyplace.com/suicide/effects-of-suicide-on-family-members-loved-ones.



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