Mental Illness And Suicide; A Common Factor And Powerful Stigma

How Survivors Heal From The Trauma To Move Forward . . .

According to The Foundation for Suicide, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide and 1,400,000.00 suicide attempts.

Of every successful suicide, there are an estimated 6 or more survivors who are left dealing with loss, grief, and guilt.  That is 283,038 people who are left dealing with the kind of loss that is both complex and tragic.

Why is dealing with death by suicide so hard?

Mental illness, a common factor in most suicides, comes with a powerful stigma. Society condemns suicide which leaves the survivor in a place that is unsafe, to be honest about their loss.  Keeping the suicide secret leaves survivors feeling isolated, shamed, and guilty.  The act of suicide makes survivors question the reason which often results in feelings of rejection and abandonment.

When there is a death by suicide, there is traumatic aftermath.  For the survivor, suicide often feels sudden and it almost always feels violent.  The survivor must often deal with the police, visit the death scene and relive the ordeal within their imagination and helplessness.

Often survivors are left to play the scene over and over in their minds, second-guessing themselves about what they may have done in order to keep their loved ones alive.  The second-guessing process can be extreme and self-punishing. Survivors of suicide often develop post-traumatic stress disorder, that can become chronic if the trauma is left untreated.

Dr. Jordan, says survivors try to psychologically dissect the antecedent as a way of discovering what ultimately led to suicide.  “Suicide can shatter the things you take for granted about yourself, your relationships, and your world,” says Dr. Jordan. This psychological autopsy can sometimes help the survivors understand and make sense of the tragedy.

How can a suicide survivor move forward and heal?

Suicide survivors, when getting help from mental health professionals or participation in support groups, may see these improvements in their emotional wellbeing:

  • An ability to understand and accept, the severity of the deceased emotional discomfort that ultimately led them to take their own life
  • Understand the triggers that may have led to PTSD as an outcome of this traumatic experience and tools to cope
  • The ability to explore any unfinished issues around the relationship with the deceased 

How to help those suffering from a loss due to suicide

Friends or family members may not feel equipped to offer the kind of support that a survivors’ need in the moments, days, weeks and years that follow.  Here are some ways to help:

  • Help with practical tasks; run errands, clean, cook, and shop
  • Just listen, without comment, to whatever the survivor wants to share with you
  • Stay in close contact, don’t let the survivor slip into isolation
  • Listen and reflect with what you are hearing the survivor share, validate the feelings of pain and grief and reassure them that what they’re feeling is normal
  • Help the survivor to focus on the deceased person’s life, reminding them that they were more than the last act

Today, grief is treated as something that is short lived.  Our grieving time is supposed to be done with one week off work.  The expectation after a week is to get back to living life as if nothing happened. The reality is that grief comes in waves and has no expiration date.  Be prepared to support the survivor forever.

Even when the survivor stops talking about it, quietly inquire how they are coping with death.  Be patient, even when they share the same stories and worries. Make the effort to reach out and acknowledge the milestones; birthdays, wedding anniversaries, holidays, and the anniversary of their death.

Survivors experience many disparate feelings, at different times, and in individual ways.  The grief cycle continues, with no real end. To support survivors, show up, with consistency, in action or to listen, and always with compassion for their tragic loss.

If your family has unresolved survivor trauma, shame, or guilt that is manifesting in a substance use disorder, Healing Springs Ranch has family programs in place to help.  With our intensive family therapy model, the entire family will receive the help needed to heal and move forward in life, free of guilt and shame.