Bereavement After Suicide: Understanding the Experience of Suicide Loss
Who Is A Survivor?
- Previous definitions focused on exposure, kin, and psychological proximity.
- A broader definition: "A suicide survivor is someone who experiences a high level of self-perceived psychological, physical, and/or social distress for a considerable length of time as a result of the suicide of another person."
How Many Survivors Are There?
- 6 Survivors for every suicide (180,000 new survivors each year)?
- Exposure - Crosby & Sacks (2002):
- 7% of U.S. population exposed in a year (21 million each year)
- 1.1% have lost a family member (3.3 million each year)
- Of those exposed: 3.2% lost immediate family/13.7% extended family/80.4% friend or acquaintance
Are Survivors at Risk?
- Qin, Agerbo, & Mortensen (2005) found:
- completed suicide in immediate family associated with 2.1 fold increase in risk for completion of suicide themselves
- In young survivors (under age 21), paternal suicide associated with a 2.3 fold increase, and maternal suicide associated with a 4.8 fold increase in risk for completion
- Loss of a child or spouse is associated with increased risk of suicide in survivors - and loss to suicide increases risk even more
- Hedstrom, Liu, & Nordvik (2008) found:
- Men exposed to loss of a family member 8.3 times more likely to die by suicide
- Men exposed to loss of a work colleague 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide (work setting under 100)
Prominent Themes for Survivors
- Why? Making Sense of the death: what signs did i miss? How could he/she have hidden this? This isn't the way it's supposed to be.
- Responsibility: Guilt & Blame
- Trauma & Helplessness: Shock & Horror
- Anger: Rejection & Abandonment
- Relief: The end of suffering
- Shame: stigma associated with suicide and mental illness
- Social Disruption: Isolation & Social Ambiguity
- Suicidality: Why go on?
- Sorrow: Grief & Yearning
Prominent Themes for Survivors: Family Impact
- Information management: who and what to tell, powerful impact of secrets
- Disruption of family routines, rituals and role functions/Changes in emotional availability/Changes in distance and power in relationships
- Communications shut-down
- Coping Asynchrony - Differences in grieving styles
- Developmental anxiety about repitition
- Result=Loss of family cohesion
Post-Traumatic Growth after Suicide
- Changed Identity: Survivor, worthy of self-care
- Changed relations with others: more priority on relationships, more expression of love/affection, more compassion for others, ending dysfunctional relationships
- Changed outlook on life: Purpose, Greater appreciation/gratitude, Deeper spirituality/faith, Hope