Losing someone to suicide affects the whole family. With the laughter and presence of their loved ones no longer around, families are left to sort through the devastation of a loss they weren’t prepared for.
Suicide rates affect ethnic minorities at a disproportionate rate in the U.S., and a common factor is substance abuse. These demographics and others must face the reality of suicide when a family member passes away too soon.
The effects of suicide on the family may also impact each family member in unique and challenging ways — the grieving process may look very different for a parent who’s lost a child, the child of a parent, a sibling, or another relationship.
How Suicide Affects the Whole Family
Here are some of the effects suicide may have on families.
Feeling Blame or Guilt
Often the biggest challenge family members face after losing someone to suicide is blame and guilt. Many wonders
“What could I have done differently?”
“Why didn’t I see this coming?”
“I thought they were happy, what went wrong?”
Though no one is to blame for a person who dies by suicide, survivors of suicide often can’t help but bear the burden of extreme guilt, feeling as though they should’ve seen the signs or done something to help.
This level of guilt and blame may also be higher if you found your family member’s body. This is a deeply traumatic experience and might provoke more guilt than if you’d been informed of the loss instead of seeing it yourself.
It’s important to remember that you are not to blame for your loved one’s death. It’s a hard process, but family members must remove the idea of being a culprit, and begin to heal from the tragedy.
If you struggle with guilt, speak words of truth over yourself, reminding yourself that you love and miss your family member, but it wasn’t your fault.
The concept of relief after the death of a family member by suicide is difficult and complex. While a family member may be devastated that their loved one is no longer with them, they might feel a sense of relief that they’re no longer suffering.
Not all suicides are related to mental illness. But for those who battled with mental illness, the daily struggles and pains were likely heavy and burdensome. Some family members are glad that this internal struggle and stress is no longer plaguing their loved ones.
Such feelings of relief can also contribute to guilt. It feels almost wrong to be relieved, but relief is a normal response and an empathetic one at that.
Confusion or Anger
Sometimes, suicide can feel like a selfish act. When a family member is lost to suicide, there’s often no preparation, no warning, and many times no explanation. This can feel overwhelming for families and may lead to anger and resentment toward their loved ones.
Especially if your family member didn’t leave a note or share a final word, there may be confusion surrounding their death. It can feel nearly impossible to get any sort of closure when this happens because you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
Again, these responses are normal and experienced among numerous others who’ve lost their loved ones to suicide. But feeling angry at a family member who died by suicide can bring about more guilt.
Remember that confusion and anger are healthy parts of the grieving process. There is no set standard on how to cope with such a tragic loss. If you’re angry, allow yourself to feel angry. If you’re confused about their death, express those thoughts with other family members and people who loved them. You are never alone in your grieving.
Co-Occurring Grief and Health Issues
Researchers have found that a person who loses a family member to suicide usually goes through a series of co-occurring symptoms of grief and health complications. Reactions to grief (such as blame, guilt, and extreme sadness) can trigger physical, psychosomatic, and psychological health problems for family members.
Some of the physical responses family members experience include
- Memory loss
Psychosomatic (physical manifestations of internal conflict) responses might look like
- Physical pain
- Severe abdominal pains
- No appetite
Lastly, family members might experience psychological responses, such as
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
Dealing with the Stigma
When someone passes away, people are generally compassionate, kind, and understanding. But the stigma associated with suicide can at times solicit different thoughts and opinions from others.
More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year making this a much more shared experience than we’d hope for but our culture still holds a stigma over suicide. Because of this, family members might fear the judgment and condemnation they could face by speaking up and sharing with others their experiences.
Studies have found that suicide survivors experience stigma in the form of shame, blame, and avoidance. Some of the reasons for this stigma were related to concealing the death, social withdrawal, struggles with grief, and negative implications on mental health.
Society as a whole might still be behind on this issue, but there are people out there that you can trust. Find one friend or another family member who understands what you’re going through and talk to them about it.
Coping with the Loss of a Family Member by Suicide
Moving on after the death of a loved one is painful in and of itself, and when there’s been a suicide, it can feel like you’ll never be able to get over the death. But there is hope, and there are ways we can move forward in time.
Here are a few resources for your family as you work through this loss together:
- Mayo Clinic: Suicide Grief
- NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Hannah Bennett is a content specialist for DetoxRehabs.net, a resource that provides information on addiction, substance abuse treatment, and dual diagnosis treatment. Addicted individuals and loved ones can find referrals and useful tools to provide a better pathway to recovery from addiction.