Suicidal fears and feelings

Suicidal fears and feelings

Despair is a natural part of the grieving process, but after the suicide of a loved one hopelessness may be combined with fear for one's own safety. Identification with someone who has taken their life can be deeply threatening to one's own sense of security. Those bereaved through suicide may suffer more anxiety than those bereaved in other ways and be more vulnerable to suicidal feelings of their own. The bereaved need extra reassurance after a suicide, which may also have been preceded by mental health problems. Although I had never in my life contemplated suicide, one of my biggest fears after Ros's death was that I' d kill myself too. Only a few weeks after Ros died a colleague at work also hanged himself. That made things even worse. The world began to feel very unsafe. Two people in two months? I remember lying in bed after John's suicide looking at the curtain rail and thinking it would be quite easy to copy them. Ros died when she was thirty-six and I heaved a sigh of relief when I reached my thirty-seventh birthday and found I was still alive. These feelings have almost completely disappeared now but at the time I kept them to myself, and there was no one to tell me that this is a common reaction to suicide

Media Attention

For most bereaved people grief is a private matter. However when a loved one has died through suicide or other unexpected causes, it may attract public interest. The inquest that is demanded by law draws attention to the person who has died and to their close relatives and friends. The death and its circumstances may be reported by the media. Attention of this kind can be very stressful for bereaved relatives and friends, particularly where a death is reported in an insensitive or inaccurate manner.


When is it time to get help?

Grief is painful and exhausting. It is not always easy to decide at what point it would be helpful to receive some outside support. Some reasons you might decide to seek extra help during bereavement are when you: continue to feel numb and empty some months after the death cannot sleep or suffer nightmares feel you cannot handle intense feelings or physical sensations such as exhaustion, confusion, anxiety or panic, chronic tension feel overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings brought about by a loved one's death e.g. guilt, anger, rejection have no-one with whom to share your grief and feel the need to do so keep constantly active in order not to feel (e.g. working all the time) find you have been drinking or taking drugs to excess find you are worrying and thinking about suicide yourself feel afraid that those around you are vulnerable and not coping.


Use of alcohol and drugs

Some people bereaved by suicide or another form of death use harmful amounts of alcohol or take illicit drugs to relieve their feelings of sadness. While these may provide short term relief from painful feelings, they hinder the process of grieving and can themselves cause depression. They can also have other negative consequences for health. If you find yourself using alcohol or drugs in this way you are strongly encouraged to seek help. In the first instance it will usually be best to approach your GP If the use of alcohol really gets out of hand you might consider approaching Alcoholics Anonymous for help. If one of your relatives gets into such difficulty, AA is a very helpful source of advice and support. A personal tragedy of this kind inevitably involves tremendous suffering for you and those close to you. Do remember that help is available if you feel this suffering is becoming too much for you to bear alone.


Emotions during bereavement



Feelings of despair are common during bereavement, once it is realised that despite all the pining and longing, a loved one will not be coming back. Relationships often suffer because despair is draining and saps interest in others. The bereaved may be left feeling both powerless and hopeless. Life may no longer seem to make sense or have meaning. Feelings of 'not giving a damn' about anything or anyone are common, as is indifference as to what happens to you. In the aftermath of a death suicidal feelings are not uncommon.



Fear is common in grief. Violent and confusing emotions or panic and nightmares may make grief a frightening experience. You may fear a similar event happening again. You may fear for yourself and those you love. You may fear 'losing control' or 'breaking down'. No-one ever told me that grief felt so like fear C. S. Lewis ' Grief and depression The feelings of the newly bereaved have a lot in common with those of people suffering from depression. Like depression, grief can bring profound sadness and despair. Feelings of unreality are common. It may be hard to see a way forward. Grief interferes with sleep, concentration and appetite. For a bereaved person, these feelings are part of a natural response to a terrible loss. People who have been bereaved are likely to be more prone to sadness and depression for a number of years. For some, these feelings may be particularly severe and prolonged. When grief gives way to a longer lasting depression, further help may be needed.



Anger is a natural and common response to loss. It is rare to experience no anger during bereavement and, for some people; feelings of rage can be very intense. The protest 'Why me?' reflects a general sense of helplessness at the unfairness of life, as does anger at others for carrying on their lives as if nothing has happened. Anger may also have a more specific focus. Intense feelings of blame may be directed towards other people - relatives, friends, doctors - who did not seem to help the person enough before their death. It is common to feel anger at oneself for 'failing' to prevent their death, blaming oneself for not doing more. Feelings of anger towards the person who has died are often particularly distressing and confusing. The bereaved may feel abandoned by them. Feelings of anger are at their most intense shortly after a death and tend to grow less with time. One woman said after her sons death that she felt great anger at him for what he had done to her, her sister, her mother and family She had often felt overwhelmed with murderous rage, rage at the world, at life, that it could be so unfair sometimes, and finally rage at her friends who she once loved and cared for... that they could not be there for her.



Guilt or self-blame is also common during grief. Guilt may be felt about the death itself. It is extremely painful to accept that we were not able to prevent the death of a loved one or protect them. Feelings of responsibility are common and bereaved people often judge themselves harshly under these circumstances. Our relationships before the death are another common source of remorse. Sudden death interrupts close relationships without warning. Since our lives are not usually conducted as if every day might be our last, we assume there will always be the future to sort out tensions and arguments or to say the things that have been left unsaid. Regrets often take the form of 'If only's': 'If only I had done this' or 'If only I hadn't said that'. Guilt may also be aroused by what one feels or does not feel during bereavement (e.g. anger towards a dead person, inability to cry or show grief openly). Occasionally a death may bring with it a sense of relief for those left behind, particularly if there had been a lot of unhappiness and suffering for everyone beforehand. This feeling may also cause intense guilt. Lastly, guilt may be felt for surviving - for being alive when they are dead. Another woman described her terrible feelings of guilt following her brother's death. Not one day had passed that she hadn't asked herself 'Why?' Not one day had passed that she hadn't experienced the guilt, tidal waves of guilt that just seem to drag her under deeper and deeper She agonised over whether they as a family could have done something that might have turned him around, that might have made him want to stay with them. Why she wondered did they say all those terrible things to each other while they were growing up? Or worse, why didn't she say all the things to him that she now wished she could?


Anguish and pining

The understanding that a loved one is really dead brings with it tremendous misery and sadness. As the loss begins to make itself felt, pining for the person who has died is common. Powerful and desperate longings - to see and touch them, to talk and be with them - may be felt. The intensity of emotions is often frightening and may leave the bereaved feeling devastated. Emotional pain is often accompanied by physical pain. It is common to go over and over what has happened, replaying things in your head or talking them through. The need to talk about a loved one, following their death, is part of the natural struggle to counteract their loss.


Physical and emotional stress

Early grief and mourning

Losing someone close to you is a major source of stress. This stress may show itself in both physical and mental ways. Restlessness, sleeplessness and fatigue are common. You may also have bad dreams. Loss of memory and concentration are common. You may experience dizziness, palpitations, shakes, difficulty breathing, choking in the throat and chest. Intense emotional pain may be accompanied by physical pain. Sadness may feel like a pain within. Muscular tension may lead to headaches, neck and backaches. Loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhoea are also common and women's menstruation may be upset. Sexual interest may also be affected. The physical effects of shock usually pass with time. The most common phrase heard from the newly bereaved is, I feel like I'm going crazy ". The pain and the accompanying emotions are so intense that it doesn't seem possible that a normal human being can experience them and still live. You may believe that you are going insane or at least on the verge of it but you are not. You are experiencing the normal physical



The death of someone close to you comes as a tremendous shock. When someone dies unexpectedly this shock is intensified and when someone takes their own life, or dies in a violent way, the shock can be particularly acute. Shock is common during the days and weeks immediately following a death. Some experience it more severely and for longer than others.



Your mind only allows you to feel your loss slowly and following the death of someone you have been close to you may experience feelings of numbness. What has happened may seem unreal or dreamlike. The thought 'this can't really be happening' may recur. The numbness of early bereavement may itself be a source of distress and misunderstanding if one wonders, for example, why one cannot cry at the funeral. In fact, this numbness is only delaying emotional reactions and may be a help in getting through the practical arrangements. The 'protection' provided by shock gradually wears off and emotional pain begins.



It is natural to have difficulty believing what has happened. Where a death was untimely and sudden it is even harder to grasp that the loss is permanent and real. On one level it is possible to 'know' that a loved one has died. But on another, deeper level it may seem impossible to 'accept'. A large part of you will resist the knowledge that the person who has died is not going to be around any more. Confusion, panic and fear are common during this struggle between 'knowing' they have died and disbelief.



Numbness and shock tend to give way to an overwhelming sense of loss. Many bereaved people find themselves instinctively 'searching' for their loved one, even though they know that they are dead. This may involve calling their name, talking to their photographs, dreaming they are back or looking out for them amongst people in the street. This denial of a painful reality is a natural part of mourning. Realising that a death has really happened and is irreversible takes some time. Denial is meeting your son on the street, seeing him from behind, the same shaped head, the identical droop of the shoulders, the swinging gait. Your leaping heart cries, "Oh, its John". Some days, you'll walk into the house and feel' his presence in a room. You can 'see' that smile, 'hear 'that laugh. A part of my denial was setting the table for him. Time and again. I d set his place with all the others and then gasp with the realisation that he would never be coming home to dinner.