The National Council of Psychotherapists
Some Myths of Suicide Loss
Suicide is the subject of many myths and misconceptions. So is suicide loss, which is the type of traumatic loss felt by those who lose someone close to suicide. Both types of myths can have a deleterious effect on those bereaved by a suicide. The myths of suicide loss have been given little attention. We will briefly discuss the ten that we have encountered most frequently over the past several years.
Perhaps the most harmful myth about suicide loss is the misconception prevalent among suicidal individuals that no one will miss them, or care about their passing, or be affected in any way by their suicide. There are millions of suicide survivors around the world that can attest to the falsity of this assertion.
Other myths of suicide loss are equally misguided:
Myth 1: There is nothing that anyone could have done to prevent the suicide. - This is a popular rationalization. While it is not possible to prevent all suicides, it would certainly not be impossible to prevent many more than we presently do. At some point, in the process that leads to suicide timely, intervention could avert the tragic outcome.
Myth 2: In time, those affected by the loss of someone to suicide will get over it. - Suicide loss is one wound that time does not readily heal. It is characterized by a long, severe, and painful grief that may stop worsening but never lessen. Those most affected by a suicide are the parents, spouse, children, siblings, other relatives, partners, and friends of the victim. For them there is no closure.
Myth 3: Someone who has never experienced a suicide loss can know what it is like. - Survivors may hear "I know what you are going through" from others, but unless the speaker is also a suicide survivor they cannot possibly relate (or need to). Most individuals experience "normal" deaths (e.g., due to disease, old age, or other natural causes). They usually adjust to their loss within weeks or months, and assume that this happens irrespective of the nature of the death.
Myth 4:Those that endure a suicide loss are made stronger by it. - There is nothing positive or ennobling about suicide loss. It shatters personal beliefs, depletes self-esteem, strains interpersonal relationships, engenders anger and feelings of betrayal, leads to depression, and sometimes to suicide.
Myth 5: Those who are young when a parent or sibling suicides are spared the pain. - Suicide loss only spares those whom neither loved nor cared for the victim. The very young are usually only spared temporarily by their inability to understand or the withholding of information about the loss. They often feel the effect years later when they learn what happened. Older children grieve and may have serious problems if it is not acknowledged. Many delayed grief reactions arise from cases of family denial that there was a suicide.
Myth 6: A suicide by an older person doesn't affect others as it does if the victim is young. - The significance of suicide loss is not age delimited. It has a withering effect regardless of the ages of the survivors. Nonetheless survivors of an elder victim may experience an especially perverse strain of ageism. They may be told that their loved one or friend "was old and going to die anyway." This devalues the life of an elder and marginalizes and intensifies their grief.
Myth 7: Being around others who have had such a loss will just make you feel worse. - Contact with others who have experienced a suicide loss is usually beneficial. It demonstrates that one is not alone, that this has happened to others. More importantly it validates that how one feels and acts as a survivor is "normal" and that you are not "going crazy."
Myth 8: Those around someone who has had a suicide loss shouldn't talk about it. -. Those who have had such a loss have nothing else on their mind and need desperately to "talk about it." Ignoring loss is basically denying loss. It should not be given "the silent treatment." This, in effect, minimizes and marginalizes the loss. Talking about the loss is an essential coping mechanism.
Myth 9: Learning about suicide after having a suicide loss will not do any good. - Most who suffer a suicide loss need to know how it came to happen and understand "why." Also suicide survivors are themselves at very high risk of suicide. An understanding of the warning signs and risks factors is necessary learning for anyone who is coping with a suicide loss.
Myth 10: Stigma is no longer associated with suicide loss. - Antipathy towards suicide is still directed at the survivors. It has just become more subtle and more likely to be expressed in pseudo-psychological terms. There may still be hurtful remarks about the victim, what motivated their death, and the survivors' responsibility or knowledge of their intent. Emergency personnel, clergy, coroners, teachers, counsellors, and others that survivors encounter are a common source of antagonistic responses to their loss.
It has been argued that the myths of suicide may cause the suicidal to stigmatise themselves and amplify the stress and anguish that may lead them to complete suicide. The myths of suicide loss have a similar maladaptive impact on suicide survivors. They impart unrealistic expectations and incorrect information, and inhibit use of important support resources.