The Unique Experience of Grief After a Suicide

For the thousands of mourners affected by the estimated 32,000 suicides a year in the U.S. the grief of suicide is uniquely complicated.    For survivors of suicide grief can be overwhelming and the healing process particularly challenging.

While grief can lack a predictable pattern or timetable, there are elements that are often shared by survivors as they work through the trauma of loss by suicide:

Shock

Often survivors' initial reaction is shock and disbelief. Denial allows the mourner to accept the reality of the loss that they can at that time.  Gradually, recognition and acceptance of the reality sets in, though for some, shock is experienced repeatedly as the survivor bounces back and forth from recognition to denial.

Anger

Many survivors feel angry at the loved one who has committed suicide for leaving them and inflicting emotional pain.  This anger is understandable. Anger is simply not liking how things are…and this feeling is justifiable in the case of suicide survivors.  Moving toward forgiveness is an important step in the healing process.

Guilt

Guilt can be one of the most difficult emotions associated with suicide loss. Survivors often blame themselves for not recognizing warning signs, not providing the person with the help and support they needed or not having taken steps to prevent the suicide. 

The extent of guilt is often dependent on the nature of the relationship the bereaved had with the victim prior to the suicide. Experts stress that it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for the person's actions. 

Depression

Intense sadness and depression often follow the death of a loved one. The stigma and misconceptions associated with suicide can prevent the survivor from seeking needed support. Studies have shown survivors to be more prone to depression than those not affected by a suicide, which places them at greater risk of complicated grief & suicide themselves. 

Finding meaning or purpose in the life of the loved one and the grieving process can help survivors make sense of the trauma and work through depression.

Feelings that are common in survivors of suicide:

  • Overwhelming sadness

  • Loneliness

  • Guilt and/or regrets

  • Rejection or abandonment

  • Confusion

  • Shame

  • Anger

  • A lack of support & dealing with the stigma of suicide

  • Dealing with severe trauma

Remember that survivors of suicide have a greater risk of the following than do many other losses to death:

  • Major depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Suicidal ideation and/or behavior

  • Prolonged complicated grief

If you or someone you love needs help with grief after a suicide, don’t suffer in silence and alone with this complicated loss and the grief that follows. Seek help from professionals who can companion you during this dark time in life. 

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