Suicide is a leading cause of death in the world. According to the world health organization it claims about 800,000 people annually. Any suicide discussion about suicide would be incomplete without considering the perspective of the bereaved. The death of a loved one, especially a sibling is one of the most painful experiences that anyone would have to deal with. One feels sad, at a loss, lonely, and hurt when the person you have lived with all your life dies. Those feelings are aggravated when the cause of death is a suicide due to feelings of guilt, rejection, shame, betrayal, anger, and also due to stigma and trauma. The suicide survivors have to cope with serious and sometimes long-lasting psychological effects such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and also complicated grief. Therefore, the bereaved require a strong support system and medication in extreme cases. Unfortunately, the stigma meted on suicide survivors may prevent them from seeking much-needed support and so they may require unique interventions and supportive measures. Therefore, this research will discuss some effects of suicide bereavement and the interventions that can be given to suicide survivors.
When a loved one dies, no matter the cause of death, bereaved people may experience intense and painful emotions which is a normal grieving process. However, when a person losses a sibling to suicide, the acute grief is extended and the grief may go on to develop into complicated grief. Such a person feels stuck and the intense grief continues. They get depressed and some even get suicidal because they feel like death is the only way out of their grief. In addition to the overwhelming grief, shame, anger, betrayal, guilt, confusion and the need to conceal the cause of death are also common with suicide survivors. Most suicide survivors try to make sense of death, trying to understand why their loved ones chose to kill themselves. When the deceased leaves an explanation, it may help the bereaved understand the cause but without any explanation, the bereaved are left confused. The survivors are also overwhelmed with guilt because they feel that they should have done something to prevent suicide. They replay events leading to their loved one’s death digging for clues and signals that they failed to notice. Another common response to suicide bereavement is shame especially if someone was the elder sibling. Society sometimes places parental responsibility on elder siblings and so they feel responsible for their siblings. So when their siblings commit suicide, they end up blaming themselves for not taking good care of them (Cerel, Jordan & Duberstein, 2008). Feelings of abandonment, rejection, and anger are also common among suicide survivors). They feel like the siblings did not love them enough such that they decide to take their life and leave them behind. They feel angry at their siblings wondering why their love for each other was not enough to prevent them from committing suicide. They also feel angry at themselves and at God and other family members and the whole universe for not preventing suicide. To make it worse, they are also affected by the stigma and trauma surrounding suicide. Society imposes shame on those who commit suicide, and the suicide survivors which prevents them from seeking help and from healing. Due to this, they may suffer from depression, PTSD and even get suicide (Bellini et al., 2018. For these reasons, suicide survivors experience different grieving from grief after other causes of death and so they require special care.
Suicide survivors are at a higher risk of getting complicated grief. Due to the stigma, guilt, and anger that emanates from suicide loss, an informal intervention such as family and friends support is not sufficient to get them through the grief. Their kind of grief sometimes warrants formal intervention such as joining support groups. Support groups unite people going through a similar situation and provide accurate information and also allow each other to grieve by normalizing their reactions and behavior. They offer mutual support to each other and feel understood and that their feelings are acceptable. Since suicide survivors are at a higher risk of developing complicated grief, they may require Complicated grief treatment which entails interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressants for those who fall into depression.
Suicide survivors face unique challenges that make their grieving process difficult. This puts them at risk of developing complicated grief, falling into depression, PTSD, and getting suicidal. When those conditions are not intervened, the suicide survivors may have to endure life long suffering and negative health outcomes that may even be fatal. More research on suicide bereavement needs to be conducted so as to know the needs of suicide survivors and how to help them overcome the grief.
Bellini, S., Erbuto, D., Andriessen, K., Milelli, M., Innamorati, M., & Lester, D. et al. (2018). Depression, Hopelessness, and Complicated Grief in Survivors of Suicide. Frontiers In Psychology, 9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00198
Cerel, J., Jordan, J., & Duberstein, P. (2008). The Impact of Suicide on the Family. Crisis, 29(1), 38-44. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910.29.1.38