A friend of mine and I were talking at dinner the other night about a recent Grand Rounds lecture at Duke. The speaker was an expert on suicide, also known as a “suicidologist.” My friend and I both agreed that that title was not one either of us wanted on our business cards, but that there is such a need for a better understanding of what leads people to suicide. It is devastating when a loved one decides that committing suicide is the only answer to their problems. The thought that their loved ones will be better off without them could not be further from the truth, no matter how bad their problems may be.
According to the American Association for Suicidology (AAS), there are currently over 32,000 suicides annually in the USA. It is estimated that for every suicide there are at least six survivors. Some suicidologists believe this to be a very conservative estimate.
The fallout from suicide causes ripples far and wide in the circle of people left behind. For partners of people who have completed suicide, the pain can be crippling. Questions of “Why?” can never be answered. Wondering if one thing could have changed the ultimate outcome can haunt survivors for years. Wishing you had just said something else, or done something differently can lead to major depression in the survivors. It can be difficult for the surviving partner to create new relationships with anyone, never mind another romantic partner. Feelings of failure, and that you didn’t do enough to help can overshadow your life, and make it difficult to ever allow yourself to experience happiness again. Guilt and shame are common emotions as well: thoughts of “I didn’t love him enough,” or “I should have seen the signs,” or “What will people think of me now that she’s gone?” are all understandable.
There are several websites that offer support to survivors of suicide (see the Resources below). Here are some of the tips they share for healing after losing a loved one:
- Know that you can survive this. It does hurt, and you will not feel better overnight, but you have choices about how to grieve and heal.
- Understand that grieving is a natural process, and it looks different for everyone. It’s not linear, either: you may be in one place for a while, and then go back to a previous stage. This is normal.
- It is okay to feel overwhelmed and “crazy” from your emotions. This is also normal. Practicing self-care is very important during this time, which includes eating, sleeping, staying hydrated, and trying to keep to a routine. Avoiding alcohol, drugs, and any other mood-altering substances is very important.
- Having suicidal thoughts of your own are not uncommon, and you will likely not act on them. However, if you do feel in danger, getting help immediately is crucial.
- Getting help from support groups for survivors of suicide can be very validating and healing. Others have been where you are now, and can guide you through the process of recovery.
- Be patient with yourself. Talking to a professional who is experienced with trauma and grief counseling can help.
Lifeline Gallery (Stories from those who have survived a loved one’s suicide)