The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

37
Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

Onja T. Grad and Karl Andriessen

A person’s death is not only the ending; it is also a beginning—for the survivors.
(Shneidman, 1972)


Introduction

Through the history of society, suicide remains an enigmatic act that ends the pain of one but brings new pain to those left behind. The impact on those left behind has been overlooked, tabooed, neglected, and stigmatized for centuries. The bereaved individuals and families have been ignored or, even worse and more often, blamed for the tragedy of having a family member die by suicide (McGoldrick, 1987); or as Shneidman (1972, p. xi) named the tragedies that continue after the self-destructive act, “the illegacy of suicide.” Only lately (since the 1960s) have these individuals been given some scientific and clinical attention. Contrary to past beliefs and actions, it is now clear that those affected by suicide have to work through a long and painful process of accepting, acknowledging, and expressing their numerous emotions and behaviors in order to be able to move on with their lives. For various reasons (biological, psychological, and environmental), those bereaved by suicide are at increased risk of developing suicidal behavior themselves, either as a result of biopsychosocial vulnerability or because of identification with someone close who has died by suicide.


The Problem of Terminology

When it became clear that suicide usually provokes many problems in the close and wider social environment, there were many ambiguities about the terms suicide survivor, grief, bereavement, and mourning—indeed, consensus definitions were absent (Shneidman, 1969). For example, the term suicide survivor has been used to describe two different groups. First, it has been used for those who have survived their own suicide attempt and second, for those relatives or friends of someone who have died by suicide. However, nowadays, there is growing consensus to apply the term suicide survivor to those bereaved by suicide rather than to those who have survived their own suicide attempt. Suicide survivor refers to anyone who is significantly negatively

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

-663-

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