Over a thousand people in Switzerland take their own lives every year. They leave behind partners, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and acquaintances.
If you lose someone you were close to through suicide the news will probably come as a terrible shock. Your initial reaction will probably be one of disbelief. Surely there must be some mistake! You may feel torn between complete paralysis and the urge to run away or to wake up and discover it was all just a bad dream. Only slowly, very slowly, does the reality of it sink in.
Your paramount concern now is simply to keep going, to maintain a daily routine for yourself and your family, and to accept the hands-on support, sympathy, and kindness of all around you: family, friends, neighbours, classmates, and work colleagues.
Mental anguish, despair, and hopelessness can make life unbearable. People with suicidal thoughts are not necessarily mentally ill. Sometimes there are other factors involved: the weight of past troubles, present difficulties, or the futile quest for meaning. The reasons for suicide are numerous and complex. People in extreme situations who believe they have exhausted all the other options may see departing this life as the only solution left.
So great is their anguish that it blinds them to the consequences of such an act for those they leave behind. They may be too ashamed to talk about their troubles, or perhaps are loath to burden others with their problems. Instead, they bottle it all up.
Suicide often marks the end of a long path of suffering. One survivor who survived his own suicide attempt expressed it as follows: “It is not a ‘No’ to life, but a ‘No’ to suffering.”
Losing someone to suicide is always a traumatic experience. It is such an abrupt severing of ties – a shock of existential proportions prompting questions that can never be answered: Why? Why didn’t you talk to me? Why wouldn’t you let me help you? Am I also to blame? Have I failed? Did I miss something? I didn’t notice anything! I was powerless to prevent it. I feel so guilty. I feel so ashamed. How can I possibly go on? How can I trust myself or anyone else ever again? Where do I go from here? And how – now that you are no longer there? Who will support me?
So many things you once took for granted will be irretrievably lost following a suicide. And that is not all. You yourself will be shaken to the core. You may feel paralyzed, numb, disinterested. You may be tormented by certain trains of thought, certain images, certain memories. You may feel despondent and desperate, helpless, fearful, and without hope. And to make matters worse, you are probably tense, easily startled, and unfocused. You are probably not sleeping well, which means that you are unable to regenerate. The world may seem alien to you and forever beyond your grasp. It is all so unreal.
All of the above are “normal” reactions to something unfathomable. It takes time for the turmoil to subside. But if the symptoms described above persist for too long, you are strongly advised to seek professional help.
THE AFTERMATH FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND
The news that someone you were close to has taken their own life is always shattering. The feelings overwhelming you will most likely include pain, despair, fear, grief, guilt, shame, and much more besides.
If the death was by suicide, it is important that you tell them the truth. They will know that something terrible has happened in any case. And they will have questions to which they will need answers, even if they cannot say so explicitly. It is vital that children and young people have at least one adult friend they can rely on and confide in and turn to for support – and not just in the immediate aftermath of the suicide but in the long term, too. Only then can their faith in people and in the world be restored. Talk to them in a language they can understand. Let them take part in the process of bidding farewell and grieving, even if they are too shocked to be able to articulate what they most want and need. And of course they should not be forced to do anything they don’t want to do.
Children and young people have very sensitive feelers: Your children might try to comfort you, to be at your side, or to take on the responsibilities that are overwhelming you. But you should encourage them to go on living their lives as normal. School, recreational activities, meeting friends, and having fun are all important. Your children may want your “absolution” for such things. Let them have it.
Children are sometimes neglected and can fall by the wayside if their parents are too wrapped up in their own grief or too busy coping with everyday life. If you, as parents or as a mother or father are finding it hard to cope, you should seek the support of dependable friends and family members. You may also need professional help.
Children, like adults, sometimes react to the distress of a suicide by withdrawing into themselves; some become overly anxious or aggressive, others despondent or despairing. Their attention span and ability to concentrate will most likely be impaired. All these symptoms generally subside after a few weeks. If they do not, you should seek the advice of a professional.
Having a large social network can be very helpful in this difficult situation, for both children and adults alike.
Our survival instinct is surprisingly powerful and even children and young people turn out to be astonishingly resilient in difficult situations. But they still need adults to support, protect, and reassure them.
You, too, will probably be shocked at the news that someone you knew personally has taken their own life.
You may feel an urge to withdraw and you may also be tormented by the question “Why?”
Your first reflex in such situations will be to try to fathom the unfathomable; hence your search for answers and explanations. But that isn’t really what you need. The fact is you have been left behind and only gradually does the reality of this sink in.
As you struggle to come to terms with a brutal death that denied you the chance to say goodbye, your distress will probably be compounded by seeing how distraught the survivors are. You may feel helpless and clueless and hence prefer to keep your distance, or you may jump to conclusions and be rather too hasty about dispensing advice.
Grasping what has happened takes time, just as it takes time to find the right words of comfort and to let the bereaved know that you are there for them. Even if you yourself feel insecure, you should still reach out to those most immediately affected. As much as the level of devastation will differ from individual to individual, sharing it is always a bonding experience. You can help in practical ways, too, and by doing so prove both to others and to yourself that life really does go on, even after something as terrible as this. This is where you are most needed.
You might at some point feel unable to cope alone. If so, you should seek professional help. The first person to contact might be your family doctor or the local pastor. Talk to them about what happened, about your grief, and about your fears for the future.
Notruf Kinder und Jugendliche
(hotline for children and young People)
0848 35 45 55
Elternnotruf (hotline for parents)
061 261 15 15
Ärztliche Notrufzentrale Notfallpsychiater
(emergency psychiatric Services)
061 325 51 00
Notfall für Erwachsene, Jugendliche
(emergency psychiatric services for children and adults)
061 325 81 81
UPK Basel Akutambulanz
Offene Sprechstunden für Erwachsene
(walk-in psychiatric clinic for adults)
Mon to Fri 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
061 553 56 56
Psychiatrie Baselland, Liestal
Notfall für Erwachsene
(emergency psychiatric services for adults)
061 325 82 00
Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie Basel
(psychiatric clinic for children and young People)
061 553 55 55
Psychiatrie Baselland, Liestal
Notfall für Kinder und Jugendliche(emergency psychiatric services for children and young People)
061 689 90 90
Zentrum Selbsthilfe Basel
(centre for self-help Groups)