suicide + mental illness
"After Suicide Loss:
Coping with your Grief"
by permission: Bob Baugher, PhD
and Jack Jordan, PhD
pages 7 - 8. ⓒ 2002
3 minute read
Deciding What to Tell People
One difficult decision you face is how much to tell other people about the circumstances of the death. Although our society is slowly changing, there is still a tremendous amount of ignorance and stigma associated with suicide. Some survivors fear that others will blame the family or friends for the death, or assume that the family is “crazy.” As a result, some survivors decide to keep the circumstances of death a secret. Within families, people sometimes try to hide the cause of death from others (particularly children), thinking it will protect those family members from a reality that is too difficult to hear, or believing that it may cause family members themselves to contemplate suicide.
While we cannot judge what is right for you, we can tell you that in the long run, most survivors are glad that they decided not to keep the facts a secret. Telling the truth has several advantages. It means that you do not have to keep track of who does and doesn’t know about the situation. You do not have to waste emotional energy on pretending. You also do not need to worry about people (including children in your family) hearing about the suicide from an outsider. Perhaps most important, if your family and friends know the truth, then they can truly offer comfort and support about what you are going through.
With most suicides, outsiders often already suspect that the death was self-inflicted. While undoubtedly some people will gossip or pass judgment about you and your family, most survivors are surprised at how accepting their friends and family are. They want to help, but don’t know how. Some may admit, “I just don’t know what to say.” You can respond, “You just did – you showed that you care enough to speak about it.” You can help others to help you by sharing the truth and telling them what you need from them. For some survivors, just saying the word “suicide” is difficult. Today, many are steering away from the term “committed suicide” (because it sound like committing a crime) in favor of “she died by suicide” or “he took his own life.”
You may have some insights into the reasons for your loved one’s suicide and you may wish to share them with people who ask. On the other hand, your loved one’s suicide may have come as a total shock. You may wonder, “But what do I tell people? I don’t even understand this myself.” Even if your loved one suffered from a psychiatric disorder and had been suicidal in the past, you are still probably struggling to make sense of the death. It’s okay to share your confusion with others, perhaps saying something like, “I just don’t understand this—it's as senseless to me as it is to you.” Over time, as you think it through over and over again, you may come to a better understanding of why your loved one took his or her life. Or perhaps, like many survivors, you will come to accept that you may never fully comprehend how your loved one could have done this.