I’ve been reading a lot of posts about suicide since the sad announcement of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday. Most of the information provided is assumptive, and not based on research or statistics. Here are some of the facts from the World Health Organization’s 2015 dataset:
- Suicide is not the most common cause of death; it is the 17th leading method of death worldwide.
- Suicide does not just affect young people; it occurs throughout the lifespan.
- It is not just men that suicide, women do too.
- Close to 800,000 die via suicide each year, with many more attempted.
- Suicide can be prevented.
Why is suicide different to any other death?
Suicide is different because the person who we love chose to end their own life prematurely. That sentence on its own is a powerful concept to process, as it throws up all kinds of questions and emotions. It also alters the way other people interact with us as grievers.
There are many reasons why bereavement can be different after suicide and they can include:
- The questioning of religious beliefs
- Absence of support
- Other people’s perception or interpretation of the situation both pre death and of the death
- Police involvement
- Coroner involvement
- Heightened fear of genetics
- But mainly “why?”
What are some of the reasons for suicide?
Aside from obvious mental health issues, such as drug addiction or bipolar disorder, that may lead a person to suicidal thoughts and actions, there are four psychological needs that need to be met, according to an expert in suicide, Dr. Nicola Tweedie :
We all want to feel loved, accepted, and that we belong. If we feel isolated or lonely. or excluded from our network groups, this can lead to low self worth. Alternatively, wanting to belong to a displaced group e.g. where there is a spate of teenage suicides in an area, can be seductive. The perception of joining them and becoming part of the group is a powerful attraction. Suicide can therefore appear to be a solution i.e. “no-one ever loved me anyway, no-one will care” either as a result of exclusion or the desire to be included.
Most humans enjoy predictability, stability, autonomy and some order in their lives. When there is a perception of no or little control, for example when we lose a job, are declared bankrupt, or divorce etc., suicide can seem like the only option to escape from the situation.
Assaulted Self Image:
In situations where someone has been bullied or subject to any manner of abuse, the resulting emotions can be shame, humiliation, or other associated feelings. This can lead to the perception that the only way to cope with these feelings, particularly when functionally crippling, is to avoid them. However if the emotions are too overwhelming, and possibly having a significant traumatic effect, suicide may be perceived as an escape route.
Rage and hostility are associated with frustrated needs, and can lead to the ultimate act of rage against the human form.
Why is suicide different for grievers?
Van Derwal (1989) identified the areas that are qualitatively different for those bereaved from suicide:
- A prolonged search for the motive.
- Denying the cause of death due to stigma and societal responses.
- Feelings of rejection (both by the deceased and sometimes society).
- Religious questioning.
- They are more often likely to conceal the cause from others.
- A heightened fear of a genetic /increased risk of suicide for themselves and their family.
How do we support those bereaved through suicide?
There is a simple answer to that question; in the same way you support anyone through a life event that is overwhelming and devastating: with empathy, compassion, open mindedness & authenticity. Just being there and/or listening is enough.
(Please note: The use of the word ‘committed’ with reference to ‘committed suicide’ is not particularly sensitive to the bereaved due to connotations of ‘committing’ a crime, particularly if the griever has a religious affiliation.)
For further resources see:
http://www.annemoss.com – a blog by a bereaved mother after her son suicided
http://www.Samaritans.org – a helpline and support for anyone feeling suicidal
http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk – for support if bereaved through suicide
 Van der Wal, J. (1989-90). The aftermath of suicide: A review of empirical evidence. Omega, 20, 149-171.