Current Research on Suicide and Parasuicide: Selected Proceedings of the Second European Symposium on Suicidal Behaviour, Edinburgh, June 1988

By Stephen David Platt; Norman Kreitman | Go to book overview

The early impact of bereavement after suicide
or fatal traffic accident
J. VAN DER WAL, M. P. H. D. CLEIREN, R. F. W. DIEKSTRA and
B. J. M. MORITZIn recent years there has been a growing interest in bereavement after suicide (see, for example, Dunneet al., 1987). At least three reasons can be suggested for this attention. First, suicide is a cause of death that attracts attention since it is an extremely complex phenomenon. Menninger ( 1959) has drawn attention to this by pointing out that in suicide the elements of dying, killing, and murder are represented. Not surprisingly, suicide leads to violent and diverse reactions, such as horror and condemnation, but also respect and sympathy. Secondly, in the last few decades rates of suicide have been rising dramatically, leaving a correspondingly increasing number of relatives and friends to mourn. Thirdly, there is a strong suggestion in the literature that suicidal loss is an especially severe form of bereavement. It is said that the grief process is relatively more complicated and of longer duration ( Shneidman, 1972; Schuyler, 1973; Praeger and Bern hardt , 1985). More specifically, the standard image of bereavement after suicide contains, among others, the following assumptions ( Van der Wal, 1987):
a. strong feelings of guilt;
b. social stigmatisation and loss of social support;
c. a never-ending search for explanations; and
d. an increased chance of suicidal behaviour among survivors.

This standard image, or 'suicide survivor syndrome' as it is sometimes called ( McIntosh, 1987), can be disputed, however. It is based largely on clinical observation, anecdotal information, and theoretical speculation. However, there is no sound empirical evidence for the assumption that a suicidal death is more devastating for survivors than other causes of death.

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