By Dr. Micaela Wexler
If you have lost a family member to suicide, you should know that you and your surviving family members are at an increased risk for suicide. All family members should know the warning signs for suicide. An easy mnemonic has been developed by the American Association of Suicidology: IS PATH WARM (Ideation, Substance Abuse, Purposelessness, Anxiety, Trapped, Hopelessness, Withdrawal, Anger, Recklessness, Mood Swings).
If you are wishing you were dead yourself, or feel you have these signs, you must get help immediately. Call 911 if you don’t know what to do. Or, call one of the following numbers:
If you just need someone to talk to, you should also call those numbers. They can point you to resources in your area.
Websites where you can go for help:
www.suicidology.org – American Association of Suicidology – has a section for survivors
allianceofhope.org - provides an online support group. They have different forums for the different types of survivors, ie parents, children, co-workers.
www.suicide.org – a list of resources for those at risk as well as resources for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
www.suicide.com – created by a suicide attempt survivor to help people who are suicidal
attemptsurvivors.com – a good blog to help understand the WHY behind suicide, blog posts written by people who have survived a suicide attempt
No Time To Say Good-bye, surviving the suicide of a loved one, by Carla Fine – carlafine.com – the best book on this subject which I have read
It is normal to feel intense emotions: guilt, fear, anger, hopelessness. A death from suicide is different from any other death because it is a violent choice. Many family members find it difficult to get through each day after a loved one commits suicide.
Regardless of how you feel, suicide is NOT done to punish those left behind. A person commits suicide due to unbearable emotional pain.
While it is true that there are known warning signs for suicide, some people may give no warning at all: they may seem peaceful or happy before committing suicide. This is common for people who have decided and planned out their suicide, because they feel they have finally discovered a way out of their pain. These suicides are the most shocking and devastating for families.
Other people who commit suicide do give signs that families don’t notice until it is too late. The following are some of these signs:
- a preoccupation with death or the afterlife
- sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in life or those around them
- giving away belongings
- sudden change from severe sadness to seeming to be at peace
- sudden interest in “clearing the air” about past conflicts, events
- hints about suicide
- reckless behavior
- self injurious behavior
- previous suicide attempts
- loss of appetite, weight, energy, decrease in activities
- constant negative comments about themselves
If you realize your loved one was showing these signs, you should not blame yourself. These signs are subtle, easy to miss. Suicide is difficult for most people to talk about or confront. And, many people who are not suicidal also show these signs.
Every member of the family will react to the suicide in a different way. There is no correct way to respond.
If the loved one was a teenager or child, the younger siblings will need extra care and attention.
In the immediate aftermath of a suicide, other family members, especially the PARENTS, will not be good sources of support.
Do not suffer alone. Go to the resources I’ve listed. Or contact me. I am not able to provide care through my web site, but I might be able to point you to someone who can.
And, a reminder: if you need IMMEDIATE help, call 911.