Dr. Kartiki Churi, M.D.
Grieving a Suicide Loss
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is held on Saturday before Thanksgiving each year. In the year 2022, it occurs on November 19th. It is sponsored annually by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). (1) It is the day when people affected by suicide loss gather at events in their local communities to find comfort as they share stories of healing and hope.
As we head into a busy holiday season, it is important to be aware that this time can be very challenging for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. In the year 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide and there were estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts. (1) Current statistics indicate that each incident of suicide results in 135 acquaintances being impacted and 25 in the category of suicide survivors- these are individuals who are profoundly impacted and bereaved. Each loss leaves the family and friends grieving and struggling to understand and cope. Some individuals may feel guilty and wonder how they did not see the signs and what could they have done to prevent it. For others there could be feelings of extreme sadness and anger about their loved one loss. Yet because of the stigma around suicide and mental illness, and difficult emotions surrounding suicide loss, many of us hesitate to reach out for support or get needed help to cope with the tragic loss. Most of us are not aware of the resources available and some of us may struggle with the motivation to seek support. This can lead to feelings of isolation and further complicate the grieving process.
The highly stressful ramifications due to losing a loved one to suicide, can put the survivors at high risk for developing anxiety and depression, including pathological complicated grief. Complicated grief is defined as prolonged, unresolved, or traumatic grief characterized by intense feelings associated with acute grief. (2) If unaddressed, complicated grief can cause significant distress and, persistent feelings of longing and yearning, eventually resulting in substantial deficiencies in their occupational, social, and interpersonal functioning. Furthermore, they may experience increased rates of psychiatric co-morbidities, increased medical issues, insomnia, and substance abuse. One may start to suffer from recurrent major depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behavior.
A study completed in 2019, inferred that the interpersonal factors of belonging, self-disclosure, and social support play a very important role in facilitating growth for those who have experienced traumatic suicide loss of a loved one. (3) Self-disclosure is the process of sharing one’s personal feelings and has been found to be an important component of dealing with grief. Utilizing appropriate tools and support systems can help us identify and understand our emotions to promote a healthy healing journey. Talking to a network of people who you feel safe with, who will understand your sense of loss or connecting with a network who might have shared a similar experience of loss, can be immensely helpful. Not rushing yourself through the process of grief and allowing you the time, space and grace needed to address the trauma of suicide loss is important. If the grief persists for a prolonged period, and there are feelings of unrelenting anguish, depression, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts, seeking professional help can be helpful and necessary. Selfcare, wellbeing, joy, or laughter do not mean less grief, but it means giving yourself the permission to heal and grow, despite the grief.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.
Family Care Center is also here to talk. Please reach out with any questions, we are always here to help.
- Levi-Belz Y, Lev-Ari L. "Let's Talk About It": The Moderating Role of Self-Disclosure on Complicated Grief over Time among Suicide Survivors. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Oct 4;16(19):3740. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16193740. PMID: 31590225; PMCID: PMC6801618.
- Levi-Belz Y. Growing together: interpersonal predictors of posttraumatic growth trajectory among suicide-loss survivors. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2022 May;35(3):284-297. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2021.1958791. Epub 2021 Jul 27. PMID: 34314267.