When someone commits suicide, his family members will likely experience a range of emotional reactions, including anger, self-blame, grief and confusion. Although persons who commit suicide often give some indicator that they were in distress, others complete suicidal acts with no warning whatsoever. Because suicide is an unexpected and sudden form of death, its effects can be strong and long lasting.
Emotions Toward the Deceased
Family members may feel angry after the suicide of a loved one. They may struggle to understand why their family member took his life, particularly if he did not show any signs of depression, anxiety or mental illness. Further, the family may feel like their loved one acted selfishly in choosing death. Although the family may still love and mourn the suicide victim, they may, at the same time, feel frustrated, disappointed or mad at the loved one’s choice of suicide. Additionally, the Suicide Prevention Research Center states that it is relatively common for suicide survivors to feel a sense of relief, particularly if their late loved one had a persistent mental illness requiring high levels of care.
Some family members may blame themselves for the suicide. This effect may be pronounced if the deceased loved one made comments about wanting to die in the past or if he gave warning signs of suicidal thoughts that the family missed. Although only the late family member is responsible for his choice to end his life, the sense that they could have prevented the suicide may lead to the family to question their own abilities as caregivers and lead to excessive guilt.
Like any other sudden death, a family who loses someone to suicide will go through a grieving process that will usually involve denial, shock, bargaining, anger and then ultimately, acceptance. Further, as with other deaths, the family will likely want to share positive memories about the loved one. Given the stigma surrounding suicide, however, families may also feel ashamed and want to hide that their loved one’s death was a suicide. Similarly, the family may feel ashamed to talk about the situation with outsiders or host memorials that would draw attention to their late loved one’s choice to end his life.
The American Association of Suicidology explains that when a family member dies as a result of suicide, the suicide risk for other family members increases. This is particularly true if a child loses a parent to suicide. Additionally, researchers from the University of Manitoba discovered that when parents lose a child to suicide, they may experience significant rates of depression, anxiety and physical illness.