Suicide – those left behind         
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By Vanessa Cort
ONE of my daughters has keen memories of a friend who took his own life two years ago. She remembers with regret not reaching out to him and making time for him when he let her know that he wanted to sit down and talk with her.

But at the time she had “a lot going on” in her own life and just did not get around to it.

Now she lives with the guilt spawned by her belief that she could have prevented it. “You know I think because of the type of relationship we had, I feel if we had talked and he had told me what he wanted to do, I would have been able to prevent him from doing it.”

Another older female friend of mine from Berbice seemed at a total loss when telling me of the suicide of her young nephew, “Awe nah know why he do it,” she said, her face mirroring both her bafflement and her grief.

And herein lies an issue that sets suicide apart from other deaths – the search for a reason and the feeling by a survivor that it could have been prevented. Family members and friends begin to question whether they could have done anything differently or whether they overlooked tell-tale signs.

Harvard Health Publishing (HHP) tells us that “After a suicide these questions may be extreme and self-punishing – unrealistically condemning the survivor for failing to predict the death or to intervene effectively or on time.”

Coupled with this is the tendency by survivors to “greatly overestimate” their role and to feel that they could have affected the outcome, when in fact, as Psychotherapist Tull pointed out, once a person is committed to the act there is little anyone can do to stop them.

This, however, does not prevent outsiders from apportioning blame, particularly to family members, who are often even ashamed to admit that suicide was the cause of death.

Experts, once more, blame the stigma attached to mental illness for this, noting that suicide is often associated with mental health issues and observing that, because many religions condemn suicide as a sin, survivors are even more reluctant to disclose a suicidal death.

In addition, families may differ on how to discuss such a death publicly and this can make it even more difficult for survivors who may want to speak out openly.

“The decision to keep the suicide a secret from  outsiders, children or selected relatives can lead to isolation, confusion and shame that may last for years or even generations,” according to HHP.

The Journal also states that of the more than 43,000 persons who take their own lives each year in the United States, an estimated “six or more” are left behind to grieve and struggle to understand what caused such an act. It is likely that a similar number is left behind in this country too.

What is clear from literature on the subject is that survivors of suicide need help and support but are often overlooked, in part because of their reluctance to disclose their feelings. This is further compounded by the fact that the complex nature of suicide means that outsiders may feel uncertain of what they can do to help.

Studies have shown that the aftermath of suicide is severe and different from other kinds of loss. This is because death by suicide is sudden, can sometimes be violent and is usually unexpected.

In certain instances survivors may have to deal with the police and the press and may be asked if they wish to visit the scene of the tragedy. Clinical Psychologist, Jack Jordan, PhD, says whether survivors choose to do so or not, either decision may be the right one, “But it can lead to trauma if people feel that they don’t have a choice”.

Survivors of suicide are also more prone to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and are at greater risk of taking their own lives. Hence, new research has led to the formation of groups, where survivors can meet and talk about the trauma. This offers new hope for healing and has proved to be beneficial.

Perhaps such an initiative can be taken in this country to help in the healing of those left behind after a death by suicide.

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