By Kathryn Millán, LPC/MHSP

Few things are more difficult than losing a loved one to suicide. There truly is no way to properly convey the grief that families and friends feel when someone they care about has attempted or died by suicide. It takes a great deal of strength to move forward after this type of incident, but there are ways to find healing over time, even if it seems impossible in the beginning.

The Ripple Effects of Suicide

A loss from suicide can have widespread effects. It’s important to be aware of them and understand how this type of loss affects different age groups, family members, associates and friends. A closer look reveals that suicide loss survivors are not alone — an estimated 1 million people die from suicide worldwide each year.1 Those who loved and lost people in their lives can find healing, over time, with the right support system.

If someone you care about has died by suicide, it’s important to be aware of how this may impact you and your loved ones. Awareness of the effects of suicide loss can help you navigate your grief and pain. Healing begins when you are better able to identify what you need to heal.

When Children Lose a Loved One to Suicide

Handholding circleLoss by suicide impacts children differently than it does adults. Between 7,000 and 12,000 children under the age of 18 lose a parent to suicide each year in the United States alone. Sadly, children who lose a parent or guardian to suicide are three times more at risk of suicidal ideation and actions than their peers and two times as likely to be hospitalized for depression than their peers.2 If you are close to a child who lost a parent in this way, it is a good idea to speak with a children’s therapist and even schedule some preventative sessions to help your child feel comfortable speaking with a therapist if it is ever needed now or in the future.

Young adults and older adults who lose parents to suicide are not at greater risk of suicide themselves, but they do still face their own issues.2 Children of all ages who have lost parents to suicide can benefit greatly from the support of suicide survivor groups and the connection of speaking to people who truly understand, first-hand, what they have been through.

Losing a Spouse or Partner to Suicide

The loss of a partner to suicide is truly devastating. Many people experience long-term complications to these situations, and studies show that spouses or domestic partners who have lost a loved one in this way are at a higher risk of developing a mental health concern within the first five years of the loss. Further, they are also at higher risk of physiological illness, especially illnesses that may be worsened under stress, such as sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes and liver cirrhosis. Compared to partners who lost their loved one to natural causes, surviving spouses are more prone to suicidal ideations, missed work days and disability. Fortunately, these outcomes are greatly improved when the surviving partner attends support groups and counseling, and builds a network of caring friends.3

Complicated Grief After a Suicide Loss

An estimated 62.8 percent of people who survive the loss of a loved one through suicide go on to experience what is known as “complicated grief.” Complicated grief may include symptoms of:

  • Intrusive, distressing thoughts, memories or emotional pain
  • Intense focus on the loved one’s death or, similarly, focus on avoiding reminders of the loved one
  • Increased depressive symptoms, loneliness or numb feelings when compared to normal grieving
  • Increased hopelessness when compared to normal grieving
  • Inability to enjoy life or hold on to positive memories
  • Isolation or inability to trust others
  • Guilt, shame or feelings that you could have prevented the loss4,5

Anyone who has lost a loved one can benefit from therapy and peer support. People who experience complicated grief should not hesitate to find a therapist or program that specializes in this type of loss.

What Can Help?

Never underestimate the power of a grief support group and clinician. Studies repeatedly reveal that the use of a support network and clinical treatment can help decrease depression, decrease physical illness and decrease the dangers associated with complicated grief.6

  • Understand that it is normal to feel very high levels of distress immediately after someone you care about has died by suicide. Loss of a loved one in this way is traumatic, and it will take time to heal.7
  • Grief takes time, and there is no set time when it should end and lift. Go easy on yourself and do not try to force yourself to heal within any given time frame. While each person is unique, and every loss has its own story, many people report experiencing a big shift and an improvement in outlook within two years after their loss.8
  • Discuss the loss with loved ones and friends, as appropriate. Children, especially, will need to discuss the loss of a loved one after a suicide. While these conversations should not be rushed, they can be healing. Consider meeting with an experienced grief counselor for a trained eye that can help you see your progress and protect you and your family against emotional risks.9

No matter how long ago your loss was, supportive help is available. If you are concerned about the loss of a loved one, Peachford Hospital can help. Our experienced treatment team can aid you and your family in the healing process. Contact us to learn more today.


Sources

1 Hunt, Q., Hertlein, K. Conceptualizing Suicide Bereavement From an Attachment Lens. The American Journal of Family Therapy Vol. 43, Iss. 1. 20 Jan 2015.

2 Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Children who lose a parent to suicide more likely to die the same way, study finds. ScienceDaily. 23 April 2010.

3 Yeates Conwell, MD et al. Association Between Spousal Suicide and Mental, Physical, and Social Health Outcomes: A Longitudinal and Nationwide Register-Based Study. JAMA Psychiatry, March 2017

4 Bellini, S. et al. Survivors of suicide: A research on the consequences of a loss for suicide. European Psychiatry. Volume 33. Mar 2016.

5 Mayo Clinic. Complicated Grief. 5 Oct 2017.

6 Spino, Erika et al. Impact of Social Support on Symptoms of Depression and Loneliness in Survivors Bereaved by Suicide. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Vol 30, Issue 5. Oct 2016.

7 Mcmenamy, J., Jordan, J., Mitchell, A. What do Suicide Survivors Tell Us They Need? Results of a Pilot Study. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior Aug 2008.

8 Rabalais, A., et. al. Prominent Feelings and Self-Regard Among Survivors of Suicide. Journal of Illness, Crisis, and Loss. Volume: 25 issue: 3, page(s): 262-276 1 Jul 2017.

9 Linköping University. Young people need help in understanding a parent’s suicide. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2016.