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The Stigma of Suicide and Grieving


Losing a loved one to death is a painful and difficult process, yet losing a loved one to suicide really fits into its own category of bereavement.  Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide can attest that the stigma of suicide brings along an extra layer to grieving that only intensifies the difficulties.  I wish I wasn’t saying that survivors of suicides have it harder than the survivors of those who have died from disease, natural causes or accidents, but that is in fact what I am saying.  A Harvard Medical School publication titled “Left behind after suicide states that “the grief process is always difficult, but a loss through suicide is like no other, and the grieving can be especially complex and traumatic.”

A decade ago, when I was a 17-year old recent high school graduate, my mother, who had a history of bipolar disorder, committed suicide.  Within recent times, I have been surprised to find out that my personal experience with the aftermath of her suicide is pretty much a textbook experience for a suicide survivor.  Hardly anybody called me to give their condolences.  I remember wondering why I wasn’t getting sympathy cards in the mail.  My friends, my best friends, were unusually absent and speechless when they were actually around.  Nobody knew what to say, so nobody said much of anything.  In “The Stigma of Suicide and How It Affects Survivors’ Healing”, William Feigelman, Ph.D. writes that in a study sampling 462 cases of family experiences post-suicide, the most reported response was that of being avoided.  Survey respondents wrote things such as  “people avoided me,” “friends or family didn’t call me afterwards,” and “people who I thought would be at the funeral or send a sympathy card didn’t show any acknowledgment of the death.”

Even today, a decade later, I still often stumble over my words when people ask how my mom died.  I never know quite how someone will react, and so I am usually not very forthcoming with the most difficult part of the story.  I’m no stranger to coping with the death of loved ones, and don’t usually find much difficulty in approaching the subject of death, yet talking about the reality of suicide is still an uncomfortable topic for everyone involved.

Every year in the United States, 33,000 people commit suicide, and thousands more are left behind to make sense of it and go on with their lives.  Even in 2013, with mental health becoming less of a taboo subject, mental illness and suicide still carry powerful stigmas.  Additionally, it’s counter-helpful that many religions condemn the act of suicide as a sin.  Many survivors of suicide find it difficult to be open about the death of their loved one, specifically the cause of death given the stigma attached to suicide (Harvard Health).


Works Cited:

“Left behind after suicide.”  July 2009. Harvard Health Publications.  Web.  3 July 2013.

William Feigelman, Ph.D.  “The Stigma of Suicide and How It Affects Survivors’ Healing.”  October 2008.  Web.  3 July 2013.




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Melanie is a 27-year old Southern California native who studied at Pepperdine University. Loving to travel and experience new places and cultures, she spent two years living in the Southern states of Texas and Tennessee before returning to Los Angeles where she began working in the legal industry writing content and managing communication to class members of class action lawsuits. She now is focused on her continued sobriety, and her motto in life is to never take herself too seriously. She is often described by others as an "old soul." She loves music, photography, and makeup artistry and likes to entertain herself with astrology and numerology. She is a Sagittarius and a number 9, and shares her birthday with her beloved late grandmother and her favorite author, C.S. Lewis.

Filed under: Life, Love and Relationships, Mental Illness, Recovery

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