When there is a suicide in the family, caregivers often disintegrate, unable to deal with the intense grief and the difficult, painful, and often unanswerable questions and thoughts: ‘Why did this happen to me?’ or ‘Why was I not able to recognize signs of distress?’ or ‘Why did he or she not call me before attempting suicide?’ or ‘I am not good mother/father’. Every suicide is estimated to affect at least six other people. This group may include family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and close friends.
Emotions often overpower a bereaved family’s healing process. These emotions may occur singly or in clusters. They may come fleetingly, or stay for lengthy periods of time. They all need to be dealt with for the healing to begin.
Shock:Most survivors of suicide feel shock as an immediate reaction, along with physical and emotional numbness.
Anger: Loved ones and family members often express anger (or suppress it) at the waste of human life. Anger is another grief response, and may be directed toward the person who died by suicide, to themselves, another family member, or a professional.
Guilt: Following death by suicide, surviving family members start exploring of what clues they missed, how they may have been able to prevent the suicide. This self-blame includes things they said (or didn’t say), their failure to express love or concern, things they planned to do (but never got around to) – anything and everything in a never-ending kaleidoscope.
Fear: That if one family member committed suicide, perhaps another will make an attempt.
Depression: This manifests itself in sleeplessness or disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue, and loss of joy in life.
Most of these intense feelings will diminish over time, although there may be some residual feelings that may never truly go away. The grieving process varies from person to person. In addition, some questions may forever remain unanswered.
Dr Manoj Sharma is associate professor at the department of clinical psychology at NIMHANS
For more information call the NIMHANS Centre for Well Being (NCWB) at +919480829670/ (080) 2668594 between 9 am and 4:30 pm