Those Left Behind: The Aftermath of Suicide

young-women-comfortingEarly yesterday morning I got a call from the Health Services Administrator (HSA) at the jail informing me that a nurse had committed suicide overnight.
It was a shock because I knew this nurse and had just saw her two days earlier. The HSA wanted me to come in and help break the news to the other medical staff and offer support to those who needed it.
I prepared myself for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was getting a call from her grieving fiancé who of course was having a very difficult time dealing with the tragedy.
He had spoken to her before she committed suicide, through text messaging. She had texted him a picture of a bunch of pills, but she had done that before and he thought it was an attention seeking, manipulation game and so he ignored it.
Now that she is gone he is blaming himself.
The night shift nurses, the ones that worked closes with her took it the hardest. Especially one young nurse who had grown attached to her. She broke down and sobbed continuously. She kept talking about how strange it was going to be to come to work and not see her there.
This woman also left behind two young children.
It is estimated that each suicide affects at least six people, including family, close friends, co-workers and neighbors.
After a loved one has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for those affected by their death to start falling apart from the intense grief and the fruitless search for the answer “why?”.
The people left behind to deal with the impact of suicide often find themselves so emotionally devastated that it’s hard to move forward.
This feelings often include:
  • Shock– most people experience shock or a sense of emotional and physical numbness as the first reaction to learning someone they care about has committed suicide. It’s the mind and bodies natural way of trying to slow things down until it can try to make sense of what happened.
  • Anger– people often feel anger, either directly or indirectly. They may be angry at the person who committed suicide, angry at themselves for not being able to prevent it, or angry at the persons therapist for not being able to “cure” the person.
  • Guilt– Loved ones, in an attempt to find answers to why a person killed themselves often ruminate on signs they may have missed. They may blame themselves for not expressing love, for being too distant, for not believing the person when they said they were depressed for the 1ooth time. The “what ifs” can go on and on.
  • Fear– Once someone has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for family members to become afraid that they will lose someone else to suicide or that even they themselves could possibly commit suicide.
  • Relief– It’s also not uncommon for family and friends to feel a sense of relief, especially if the individual suffered from chronic mental or physical illness (i.e, intense pain) or even if they person had been on a long, steady decline of self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction.
  • Depression– While it’s natural to go through grief when you’ve lost someone close to you, it’s not uncommon for grief to turn into depression if that loved one took their own life. The person may experience sleep disturbance, lose of appetite and loss of energy.  This can translate into feelings of life being worthless and losing joy in things one once found enjoyable.
In normal grief, all of these feelings will start to ease up overtime, it only becomes concerning when they remain very intense and do not seem to improve with time.
For people affected by an individuals suicide, it’s important that they:
  • Stay Close to family and friends– having a good support system is important to keep an individual from isolating themselves and ruminating on the suicide, especially in the first 6 months. The person may not feel like being around others and may not be ready to talk about their feelings, but they still need to have supportive contact.
  • Give children special attention– Children especially may have a hard time coping with a loved ones suicide. They need special attention so that they can express their emotions and talk them out. They need to know that grief is a normal process and need the adults in their lives to model healthy grieving for them, including open communication, sharing feelings and reminding them that they are loved and supported.
  • Be aware of special occasions– holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., can all be very stressful times.People may need extra support or checking up on.
It takes time to heal from the loss of a loved one, especially when that person has committed suicide. While the pain may feel like it’s never going to go away, it will get better. Having the support of loved ones will help with that process.
Remember to express love for the person that was lost, love for the family and friends that are still here and and love for yourself.

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