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It is estimated that each suicide in the United States leaves an average of six people intimately affected by the death, either as a spouse, parent, significant other, sibling, or child of the deceased person. These people are referred to as survivors. Of course, this estimate does not represent the total number of people who may be affected by an individual suicide. For example, the suicide of a child may leave not only his/her immediate family to make sense of the act, but also his/her extended family, school and entire community.
As with any death, family and friends of a suicide victim feel grief associated with loss. However, suicide deaths leave behind a unique set of issues for the survivors. Suicide survivors are often overwhelmed with psychological trauma that vary depending on the factors comprising the event, including discovery of the body. The survivor's trauma can leave him/her feeling guilty, angry, remorseful, helpless, and confused. It can be especially difficult for survivors because many of their questions as to the victim's final decision are left unanswered, even if a suicide note is left behind (the "why" questions). Moreover, survivors often feel that they should have intervened in some way to prevent the suicide, even if the suicide comes as a surprise and there are no obvious warning signs. Along with this sense of regret and failure, there is sometimes relief if the survivor's relationship with the victim was difficult, strained, or otherwise complicated. Given this complex and conflicting set of emotions associated with a loved one's suicide, survivors usually find it difficult to discuss the death with others, even with those who have also faced the death of a loved one, but by some other means. These feelings cause survivors to feel isolated from their network of family and friends as well as often making them reluctant to form new relationships.
Fortunately, "survivor support groups" can offer counseling and help bring many of the issues associated with suicide out into the open. They can also help survivors reach out to their own friends and family who may be feeling similarly and thus begin the healing process. In addition, counseling services and therapy can provide invaluable support to the bereaved. Some such groups can be found online, providing a forum for discussion amongst survivors of suicide.
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