Chapter 2: A different kind of loss
The stigma of suicide grief
It really hurts when people change the subject or avoid speaking about him. Sometimes it’s like they are pretending that nothing happened or that he didn’t exist. But I want to talk about him, and I want people to say his name and to remember him.
My family was so harsh and judgmental after my wife died. Instead of being there for me, it felt like they blamed me for her death.
To varying degrees, there can be a social stigma attached to suicide. Stereotypes, ignorance, and some cultural or religious beliefs may contribute to this stigmatization, feeding unhelpful and harmful myths, such as the idea that suicide is selfish or cowardly. Assumptions around mental illness might also contribute to a sense of stigmatization of the death.
This stigma can leave you struggling with beliefs and opinions that you or others have about both the act of suicide and the person who died this way. You might find it harder to speak about your loss and grief because you are unsure how your story will be received by others. If you do reach out, you might not receive the support you need.
You might also experience further losses because of changes in how people interact with you or how you interact with them. Click the arrows below to see some ways suicide’s social stigma might be expressed.
Passing judgment about the person who died.
Asking insensitive questions or making insensitive comments.
Avoiding you or avoiding talking about suicide.
Not acknowledging the death or pretending that the death didn’t occur.
Blaming or shaming you or the person who died.
Insensitive or prying questions such as “Didn’t you know?” can be painful and might leave you feeling isolated, judged, guilty, or ashamed. If you have encountered questions like this, you may have begun to avoid conversations and draw away from people you hoped would be part of your support system.
You may also encounter people who don’t view suicide with judgement or blame. You might find within yourself, or from others, a degree of understanding for the person who died or a sense of relief.
What may help
- Remember that your thoughts and feelings are part of a natural response to this death. If they seem different or disturbing, remind yourself that grief after a death by suicide is unlike the grief you may have felt after other losses.
- Resist the urge to isolate yourself, and reach out for support from people who can listen to you with compassion and without judgment. These could be friends, family, co-workers, or a faith-based or community group.
- Think about and make a plan for how to deal with people whose beliefs and attitudes aren’t helpful to you. You might need to avoid some people or say to others, “This is not something I want to discuss with you.”
- Consider joining a bereavement support group for people who are grieving a death by suicide. Connecting with people who are grieving a death by suicide could help to reduce a sense of isolation and stigma. This could be through a local resource in your community or online.