Suicide is usually a very solitary act. But its solitariness doubles its effect on other people. Family members and friends are devastated that the person they loved has so definitively broken off their relationship. The breaking of this relationship, too, can affect the way in which they relate to one another. They can retreat into themselves and become solitary, wrapped in silence. And nothing is more destructive than silence.
That is one reason why the suicide of one member of a family is sometimes followed later by the suicide of another. It is not due to a ‘suicide virus’ but to the way in which we can become isolated when someone we love takes their own life.
This week we celebrate suicide prevention day. We can contribute to prevention by ensuring that people who live with the suicide of a family member or close friend find support in dealing with their confusion, anger and grief. The best support is to help them to emerge from the silence that so often surrounds suicide and to speak about their friend’s death and of its effect on them.
This is not easy. There is a taboo associated with suicide. People are frightened of what they do not understand. In addition, we can find so many plausible reasons for keeping silent and avoiding conversation. We want to protect other people from our suffering; we are afraid that to talk about it may lead others to contemplate it; it is less painful to avoid the topic.
In this mixture of confused feelings and desire to shield others, the voices of children whose relatives have taken their own lives ring clearly and truly. They are summed up in the title of the recent little book published by Support after Suicide, Tell me what happened: Talking with children and young people about suicide. http://www.jss.org.au/policy-and-advocacy/publications-and-research
In the book children recognise how hard they found it to deal with the suicide of a parent or sibling, but how it helped to be told what happened, to be involved in the funeral, and how angry they felt if the truth were concealed from them. The authors comment,
‘What we know is that one of the most important things for children after a traumatic experience is to restore a sense of safety and security. Knowing that they have trusted adults who love them, who can they count on and who are willing to listen to their questions, worries and experiences will help them to deal with any difficult times which arise.’
Of course, adults affected by the suicide of someone they love will also find it hard to regain a sense of safety and security. They also need people they can trust with whom they can speak, whether among their friends or in groups like Support after Suicide. For all of us, it comes down to good relationships.