Has someone you know died by suicide?

How to cope when someone you know has decided to take his life.

Whenever suicide happens in the family, caregivers often disintegrate, unable to deal with the intense grief and the difficult, painful, and often unanswerable question of ‘Why did this happen to me?’ or ‘Why was I not able to recognize signs of distress?’ or ‘Why did she/he not call me before attempting suicide?’ or ‘I am not good mother/father’. Every suicide is estimated to effect six important members. This may include family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and close friends.

Emotions often overpower a bereaved family’s healing process

These emotions may occur singly, or in clusters. They may come fleetingly or stay for lengthy periods of time. They all need to be dealt with in order for healing to begin.

  • Shock – Most survivors of suicide feel shock as an immediate reaction, along with physical and emotional numbness.
  • Anger – Loved ones and family members often express anger (or suppress it) at the waste of human life. Anger is another grief response, and may be directed toward the person who died by suicide, to themselves, another family member, or a professional.
  • Guilt – Following death by suicide, surviving family members start exploring of what clues they missed, how they may have been able to prevent the suicide. This self-blame includes things they said (or didn’t say), their failure to express love or concern, things they planned to do (but never got around to) – anything and everything in a never-ending kaleidoscope.
  • Fear – If one family member committed suicide, perhaps another will make an attempt.
  • Depression –This manifests itself in sleeplessness or disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue, and loss of joy in life.

Most of these intense feelings will diminish over time, although there may be some residual feelings that may never truly go away. It also varies from person to person. In addition, some questions may forever remain unanswered.

Surviving Suicide

  • Acknowledge that all your intense emotions are perfectly normal reactions to grief.
  • Give yourself time to find the answers until you are satisfied. If you can only obtain partial answers, and that is all that will be forthcoming, be satisfied with that so you can move on.
  • Stay connected with other family members. Contact with others is particularly important in the first six months following a loved one’s suicide. Talk openly with other family members about your feelings about the suicide and ask them for help.
  • Give children special attention – Children, especially, may have a more difficult time with the intense emotions they are experiencing. It is important to remind them that these are normal grief reactions. They need, above all, to know that you still love them and will be there for them always and spend time with them.
  • Be aware that holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days are very stressful times for suicide survivors. Plan to keep yourself engage during those times/or be with others.
  • You need time to heal. Don’t expect this to happen in a prescribed period of time. It’s different for everyone.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others. Not everyone understands what you’re going through. Similarly, other family members and loved ones need to process grief at their own pace.
  • Seeking professional is always recommended.

Dr Manoj Sharma is Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Psychology at National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS)

For more information call the Nimhans Centre for Well Being at +919480829670/ (080) 2668594 between 9 am and 4: 30 pm