by Ronnie Walker MS, LCPC
Last month, an important document was released by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force, Titled “Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After a Suicide,” the document contains comprehensive information about the challenges faced by those left behind after a suicide. It also provides goals and objectives to help communities better support people affected by suicide in America. Franklin Cook, a member of the AOH Board of Directors is a co-chair of the Task Force.
With publication of the Guidelines, the plight and needs of survivors are being acknowledged and validated like never before. For far too long, the ongoing complex needs of survivors have been all but ignored in research and funding for support – in spite of the fact that they have always been one of the most easily identifiable high-risk groups.
Research has found that in the aftermath of suicide, survivors are almost 10 times more likely to feel suicidal themselves in the initial months following loss. For most, this does not represent inherent or latent mental illness, but the intensity of the traumatic shock which they have received. Those who frequent our forum for any length of time, are aware of how often members write that their pain is so bad that they are now also feeling suicidal. We often see posts like the following.
"A shrink, the suicide hotline, my friends and family and this forum are keeping me alive while every nerve ending is screaming GO TO YOUR HUSBAND.”
“After the memorial, everyone seemed to get back to life and mine had ended. That was my worst day. It was the only day that I actually thought of doing what he did. I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to live without him. I actually went through the motions of looking for enough pills of some sort to end the pain.”
“It has been a really bad day today, cannot seem to be able to concentrate on anything and my mind is constantly going over and over the events of my husband’s suicide. This emotional pain is so severe it takes my breath away leaves me feeling that I too would be happier dead with my husband."
The new Guidelines open with the following statement:
“It has long been understood that the suicide of a family member, friend, or other emotionally close person can have a powerful and sometimes devastating impact on the people who are left behind. It is well established that exposure to death by suicide can be a significant risk factor for the development of many negative consequences in the bereaved, including an increased risk of suicide. These important connections between the suicide of an individual and the subsequent risk to people exposed to that suicide loom large in taking the full measure of the personal and societal damage suicide leaves in its wake. Despite this fact, the field of suicide prevention is only beginning to comprehensively include the most pervasive aftereffects of suicide in its planning, funding, and implementation of responses to a death by suicide”
The information in this document is a brilliant start. And if it is effectively distributed it is possible that the public will gain a much better understanding of the survivor experience -- and that effective programs of support will become more readily available.
I certainly hope so.
Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors.