Learning to Cope With the Suicide of a Loved One

Alice Wisler
Suicide poses many questions.

Dealing with the suicide of a loved one is one of the most complex and troublesome experiences you may ever have to face. When any family member or friend whom we love dies, questions are posed; when one deliberately takes his or her own life, the questions are insurmountable.

Why Suicide?

Statistics show that in the United States, 30,000 people die each year by suicide by means of:

  • Overdose of prescribed or over-the-counter medication or sleeping pills
  • Gun shot
  • Hanging
  • Asphyxiation, breathing in carbon monoxide
  • Jumping off tall buildings
  • Slitting wrists
  • Jumping in front of fast-moving vehicles

Suicide, Depression and Mental Illness

According to the non-profit organization Suicide.org, the leading cause of suicide is due to untreated depression. Those suffering mental illness are also at a higher risk for taking their own lives. About 25 percent to 50 percent of bipolar patients will attempt suicide. Postpartum depression also poses a risk for suicide. Many mothers with newborns are overworked and lacking sleep. The feelings of slipping down a large hole and never getting out produce much fear and the line between what is real and what is not becomes blurred.

Society and Suicide

Often families of suicide victims feel stigmatized or cast out by the rest of society. In Europe during the 18th century, when one took his own life, his body was dragged through the streets. He was not given a proper burial and his family was forced to leave their home. The family was often ridiculed, blamed and shunned by the rest of the community.

When Your Loved One Dies by Suicide

If you find yourself dealing with the suicide of a loved one, know that some of your feelings may include:

  • Remorse
  • Blaming self
  • Anger toward self and toward the person who died
  • Guilt
  • Lack of control
  • Shame
  • Feeling rejected by friends
  • Fear
  • Hostility and frustration toward friends, family and self for not preventing the suicide

You must know that over time, you will realize that it was not your fault that your loved one made the decision to take his life. Read accounts of others who have lost a loved one in the same manner which you have to understand that life can go on for you. Join a suicide survivor's group so that you can receive the support you need.

When a Friend's Loved One Dies by Suicide

If your friend has lost a loved one by suicide, be a support to that person during this period of intense grief. The ways you can help your friend include:

  • Listening
  • Letting her talk about the death
  • Refusing to be judgmental
  • Offering to get her help via a support group
  • Paying tribute in memory of her loved one who died
  • Showing that you value her friendship and her as a person
  • Providing helpful literature and resources for her to read

When a Child Dies by Suicide

All parents feel guilt when their child dies, thinking they could have done something to prevent the death. Studies show that the parents of a child who died by suicide experience a higher degree of guilt because they feel they could have prevented the death had they been more aware of the psychological problems or clinical depression that led to the suicide. They feel they could have intervened and kept the child from taking his own life. Dealing with the suicide of a loved one is complicated, but when a child takes his own life, parents and society grieve more intensely at the loss of one so young.The reasons that cause many teens to contemplate suicide include:

  • Lack of friends
  • Struggles over self-worth
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Poor grades
  • Break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Bullying by peers or classmates
  • Difficult home life due to parents' divorce and/or continual arguing
  • Questions regarding sexual orientation

Suicide Prevention Programs

Substance abuse, whether it be in the form of drugs or alcohol, can trigger one to kill oneself. Teens, who drink heavily or take drugs, are at a greater risk. Every school needs to have a suicide prevention program. Children, especially teens, need to have access to a phone number so that they can contract someone who can help when they feel overwhelmed and are contemplating suicide. 911 may always be called when a person feels he is suicidal.

Resources to Help

Learning to Cope With the Suicide of a Loved One