A suicide is an earthshaking event. It rocks the lives of those nearby and sends innumerable temblors through people close and distant. Yet our society quells much discussion on the subject, and those shaken have few places to turn.
More than 3,600 Canadians and 30,000 Americans complete suicide each year. Compounding this critical loss of life is the profound and often debilitating despair of grief experienced by surviving families and friends. Using a modest estimate of six survivors for each suicidal death, researcher John McIntosh estimates that one out of every 68 Americans is a survivor of suicide.
Suicide survivors may find their social network, perhaps even their clergy or caregivers, and have judgmental or condemning attitudes or beliefs about suicide. Cultural and religious taboos combine with our tendency to avoid death and bereavement issues can serve to isolate and stigmatize suicide survivors. A lack of social support can increase a survivor's risk of complicated grieving, depression, and suicide.
Families hide suicide from the rest of their community, and even from each other. There are times when the cause of death isn’t mentioned anywhere -- not in the obituary, not at the funeral service, not in open conversation. Sometimes generations raised on misinformation continue to wonder how a young relative fell ill and died so quickly.
Among families, there also is shame. That someone would choose death might reflect poorly on the home, suggesting a family malady, problem, or disease. Families feel that because someone has chosen to die, survivors feel they cannot ask for help or support offered survivors of other deaths. Support for profound feelings of desertion is not something we are used to asking for, nor offering.