Losing someone close through suicide can lead to a whole range of emotions
including shock, sorrow, confusion, guilt, depression and even relief.
The question ‘Why did they take their life?’ is often complex and may never be
resolved. There is no easy answer – the most honest answer is we don’t know.
The factors that can result in a person suiciding are varied and may include:
- current stresses and social pressures
- long-term problems associated with early abuse or trauma
- chronic pain
- physical disability
Some people have a mental illness, although signs of the illness may not have
seemed evident before the suicide. The most common condition is depression.
Others include schizophrenia, alcohol and other substance abuse, and severe
personality problems. There also is increasing evidence that those who suicide
may have an imbalance in their brain chemicals, usually associated with mental
illness. Overall, predicting who will take their life is extremely difficult,
even for experienced professionals.
Many people who are bereaved through suicide have feelings of guilt. They may
feel they should have seen the suicide coming. ‘If only I had done this’ or ‘If
only I had not done that’ are common thoughts. Parents may feel there was
something wrong with their parenting. Brothers, sisters and partners may feel
responsible particularly when there has been family stress or conflict. It is
important for bereaved people to remember that they acted with the information
they had at the time. With hindsight it is often easy to see signs of the
person’s distress and to criticise what was or was not done. Some people feel
others blame them for the suicide, and some are blamed in a suicide note. These
notes are usually written when the mind is disturbed and are unlikely to be a
true expression of a person’s thoughts and feelings about their family and
Anger is a common reaction to suicide, even towards the person who took their
life for the pain they caused others. It may be difficult to understand how the
person who suicided was so intent on getting relief from their distress that
they could not think of the hurt it would give others. It is common to
experience feelings of inadequacy and loss of self esteem. Sometimes people
doubt their own values and judgement and find it difficult to make decisions and
carry on with normal day to day tasks.
Some bereaved people may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress,
particularly if they discovered the body. Symptoms of depression may also be
experienced. At times there may seem little meaning or purpose in life. These
thoughts pass but if they are strong, prolonged, or of significant concern, it
is important to seek help from a professional. Many people feel deserted,
rejected, or even betrayed by the person who suicided and may be afraid to begin
new relationships. For many reasons, friends may not be able to give the support
that is needed. It can be a very lonely experience and a support group may help.
In some families a suicide occurs without any warning, whereas in others it is
obvious the person who later suicides is suffering from a mental illness, and
the death may not be unexpected. When this is the case, feelings of guilt and
rejection may be less strong or even absent. After the suicide there may be
feelings of relief that the person is released from their mental suffering. In
situations where there were repeated threats or attempts at suicide, or in which
the relationship with the deceased person was difficult, the family may
experience relief that the suicide is over. The death may ease the tension and
resolve the family problems so that life can settle down again.
Bereaved people may feel there were many things they would have liked to have
said to the person they lost, but were unable to because of the suddenness of
the death. They may yearn to tell them they were loved, or to settle
misunderstandings. It is common to feel sadness about the waste of a life, but
it may help to recognise the person’s contributions and influences during their
life and to remember the time spent together.