Suicide and Loss
An estimated 47,000 persons die by suicide in the United States annually. For every death by suicide, 135 persons—family members or friends—are impacted. Family and close friends of people who have died by suicide are often referred to as suicide-loss survivors.
The grief that suicide survivors experience is unique. For most survivors of suicide, the grieving process includes intense feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. The senselessness of suicide makes survivors anxious and filled with doubt. Surviving family members or friends who had been caring for or financially supporting a persistently mentally ill person who dies by suicide might feel relieved that their responsibility has ended, and then feel guilty for feeling relief. Survivors may experience some or all of these complicated thoughts and emotions, and great care is needed to address them.
The death of someone close to suicide can create distance between the survivors and those who would have been supportive in other forms of loss. Acquaintances “don’t know what to say” and their discomfort in a situation without social norms can lead to withdrawal when support is needed most. Similarly, survivors may feel shamed by this loss, and avoid seeking support.
Friends and family struggle to make sense of the act of suicide in someone dearly loved. Experts in suicide and suicide survivorship caution that survivors may never be able to understand the event. Edwin Schneidman, a psychologist who participated in pioneering work in suicide prevention and survivorship, described the suicidal person as having a “perturbed mind,” so unsettled that death is perceived as the only solution to life’s distresses.
Special Resources for Survivors of Suicide
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides excellent educational resources.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness supports and educates those whose lives have been affected by mental illness.
Survivors of Suicide is a supportive website for survivors.
Live On Utah has more community resources focused on the loss to suicide.
Caring Connections offers grief support groups focused on the loss to suicide.