How suicide bereavement is different
• The grieving process often lasts longer than other types of bereavements. See also our article “20 things about grief” to give you a deeper understanding.
• Death by suicide is usually sudden, often unexpected and may be violent.
• An increase of shock or trauma can be experienced.
• Survivors may struggle to make sense of what has happened.
• Fundamental beliefs may be challenged.
• Reactions may be unfamiliar, frightening and uncontrollable, guilt, anger, shame, rejection, blame, sadness and fear. They can also be more intense.
• Survivors may be vulnerable to thoughts of suicide themselves.
• Survivors can experience post traumatic stress.
• Survivors can experience flashbacks or nightmares especially if they found the body.
• Survivors cannot stop imagining what happened – the thoughts may be worse than the reality.
Questions… Why did the person take their life? Could I have somehow prevented it?
There is still a stigma attached to suicide, rooted in centuries of history. Misplaced associations of weakness, blame, shame or even sin or crime (the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales so that those who failed in the attempt to kill themselves would no longer be prosecuted). The stigma can prevent people from seeking help when they need it, it can also prevent people others from offering support when they want to.
Denial that death was a suicide
Cultural values and issues of shame
• Not knowing what to say.
• Bereaved person perceives other people to be uncaring and judgemental.
• The family can receive particularly thoughtless and malicious comments (via social media).
There can be an escalation of family tensions possible exclusion from the rest of the family Individuals can also be excluded from funerals. Blaming each other for the death can occur.
It can be difficult to maintain privacy. There may be media attention and emergency services at the scene and visits from the police. The inquest is held in a public court of law and anyone can attend. Investigations may reveal information about the bereaved person which was unknown to their family and friends (e.g. sexuality, debt, illness).
Family members being unable to return home … especially if the death happened there.
Please also see our article on “Blocks to listening” – which provides some expert advice on learning to listen to other people.
Your local authority will have Bereavement Care Services at which issues like these can be discussed.