Death by suicide, even more than other types of bereavement makes many people uncomfortable and unsure how to react. There is still a stigma attached to suicide, rooted in centuries of history and this generates misplaced associations of weakness, blame, shame or even sin or crime. This stigma can prevent people from seeking help when they need it and others from offering support when they want to. It can colour our perceptions, our thoughts and our actions – and we may not always be aware of it.
How can isolation happen
Many people who have been bereaved by suicide find that they feel isolated. Others may avoid them, perhaps not knowing what to say or because they do not want to upset the person. People talk to them about their own experiences of bereavement – this is well intentioned, meant as a way of connecting, but it can be hard to bare at a time when the bereaved person actually need to be listened to. The sense of isolation may be especially acute if the bereaved person perceives other people to be uncaring or judgemental. Sometimes people receive particularly thoughtless and malicious comments.
It may also be that the bereaved person avoids contact themselves – they may struggle to share their own feelings because they may be fearful themselves of what they are experiencing, they do not want to upset other people or they may also worry about how to answer questions such as “how did he die?”
Existing tensions and difficulties in family relationships can be surfaced as a result of the shock and trauma. Some people cope with their pain by blaming another person for the death – this may go as far as excluding them from the rest of the family, denying them the opportunity to attend the funeral and withholding information about the investigation. This can lead to huge rifts and a deep sense of hurt and isolation being added to the loss. Blame often comes from the pain of someone who is already blaming themselves in some way.