Mental Health Assistance for Suicide Survivors
When survivors do seek mental health assistance, they often do so on their own or through encouragement of friends or family. When they come to counseling, they might have a feeling that they "should be doing better by now." The belief that grief ought to be over after a certain period is popular in Western society, and suicide survivors might be getting messages from their social network that something is abnormal about them and their grieving process. As we discussed earlier, the grieving process for suicide survivors is "abnormal" in comparison with other kinds of grief, but the process is "normal" for suicide survivors. For suicide survivors, it appears that certain grief symptoms (e.g., guilt, rejection, shame, stigma) that occur after a suicide death for survivors complicate the bereavement process (Harwood, Hawton, Hope, &Jacoby, 2002). Clinicians need to realize when working with bereaved suicide survivors that they might not recover as quickly as other types of survivors and might have some special issues that complicate therapy. Above all, the experience of these clients will most certainly not fall nicely into the discrete stages of a "normal" grief process.
The most salient aspects of suicide survivor bereavement that have been identified in the literature relate to extreme feelings of guilt and shame. A second theme that emerges is the need to make sense out of the death, to answer questions of "why?". Third is to cope with social stigma and resulting isolation. In addressing these issues, suicide survivors must avoid denial, social withdrawal, self-destructive behavior, failures to communicate, and developing enduring mental and physical health problems. Dunne (1992) stated these issues somewhat differently and listed the following as the dominant psychological themes for suicide survivors in counseling:
- Obsessive search for the why of suicide
- Sense of stigmatizations
- Incomplete or unusual grieving pattern
- An invasion of conscious thought by the idea of suicide
- Sense of helplessness and low self-esteem
- Reduction in size or complexity of social relationships
- Erosion in basic trust of others
© ______ 2007, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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