The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently released its Causes of Death report. It showed that 3,128 people died from suicide for that period, up 9.1 per cent over the previous period. It is also thought that there are up to 30 suicide attempts for each actual suicide.
Have you been affected by suicide?
The suicide rate in many parts of northern and western Melbourne is below both the Victorian and Australian average. Only in the Macedon Ranges was the suicide rate higher than average.
More people than ever are talking about mental health. Even so, dealing with the suicide of someone you know or love can be very difficult. The suicide of one person affects everyone around them: friends, family, co-workers, neighbours. It can leave you with strong emotions that feel very complicated.
Most people will feel intense sadness, as well as many other things: shock, guilt, anger and social isolation, and more. It can seem confusing and, because the death may have been unexpected, it is usually very painful for loved ones.
You might also start thinking (or need to find an answer): why did they do it? Unfortunately, you might never know what went through their head. It’s possible that you might not even get an explanation. This can make those feelings seem even more complicated.
In this situation it’s not unusual to think a lot about your relationship with that person.
How people feel after someone takes their life
Suicide affects people differently.
- Most people feel a great sadness. They are shocked by the death and miss the person.
- It is common to feel the need to make changes in your life. Perhaps you no longer want to put something off? Or maybe you feel you can now have a difficult conversation with someone specific?
- How you see your relationships can change. Simple things you took for granted with family members, for example, might take on a new meaning.
- It might change how you view yourself. Maybe you start to think differently about your health or what’s important to you.
- As the process of dealing with a suicide goes on, you may start to think more about what you want to do with your life.
- You might think more about your hopes and beliefs. For example, you might start to think a lot about what really matters?
- Your plans for the future might change. You might do fewer things you feel matter less. Or you might do more of the things that you know are important.
Being sad does not mean you are not coping. It is not a sign of weakness and it is normal to feel this way because it helps you heal. Often, the sadness comes and goes: you might feel sad for a longer time, and then you might feel a bit better for a short time.
6 common things experienced by people affected by suicide
As mentioned, people will feel differently about suicide. How you feel can be very different to how another family member or friend feels. Even so, here are some of most common feelings experienced by people affected by suicide.
1) The shock
Learning that someone has taken their own life can be incredibly shocking. Your first feelings can be very strong, especially if you found the body.
You may find that you keep remembering images of death. These can be images of what you saw or they can be imagined in your mind. If this is happening, remember that it is normal for the mind to do this.
The reaction to the news of a suicide can be very strong. You might even feel it physically with symptoms like tremors (shaking), upset stomach, trouble sleeping, trouble breathing, or chest pain. These are normal physical reactions to an intense situation like a suicide. However, if you are finding that the physical feelings are getting too much, consider getting medical help.
It can be difficult to accept that someone close to you died. People affected by suicide sometimes find themselves expecting the person to show up or phone them. Again, this is a common reaction.
You might feel like you are in a ‘dream’ or that you feel emotionally numb. Some research suggests that these feelings are natural response from the mind. The feelings become less intense as you come to terms with the loss.
3) Asking “why did this happen”?
Knowing that someone was struggling emotionally before they took their own life won’t usually make dealing with the suicide any easier. Not fully understanding why someone did it can be one of the hardest things to deal with.
You may never get a ‘proper’ answer. This can feel troubling as it could lead to the same thoughts returning again and again. If you find you are struggling with these repetitive feelings, consider contacting a counsellor or psychologist. They can help talk you through dealing with it.
You can also talk to a professional CAREinMIND counsellor on 1300 096 269. The helpline is staffed by professional counsellors and is open 24/7. If you prefer the web, you can chat to an online counsellor.
Some people believe there is a stigma attached to suicide. There may be a feeling that suicide reflects badly on a family or it may be something that you “don’t talk about”. You may not know what to tell people and this can make the sadness and pain feel worse.
If you can accept what happened then that can help you deal with any feelings of shame. Importantly, you should try to speak to members of your family and friends about this.
Friends can help you talk about the death and how it affects you. However, they may not know how to start the conversation. Help yourself (and help your friends) by staying in touch. Let them know how you feel and talk about what is important to you when the moment is right.
People affected by suicide often have strong feelings of guilt. They may feel that they failed because they didn’t stop the suicide. Some people feel that they “should have seen it coming” or that they “could have done more” to prevent it.
People often worry that they did not see the signs of suicidal behaviour before death. Remind yourself that it’s easy to see things clearly after they happened.
6) Anger and blame
Anger with the person who took their life is both normal and confusing. You may feel angry at them for giving up, leaving and causing so much pain. You might find you want to blame someone, such as a psychologist or a family member, for not doing more. You may even feel angry at yourself.
Talking about your anger often helps. Some people find a physical activity like walking or playing sport helps with anger. Again, talking with a professional counsellor is often a good idea.
Look after yourself
Sometimes the pain and trauma of losing someone to suicide can be so much that people feel suicidal themselves. If you are thinking of suicide yourself, it is important that you get help. Talk to a professional CAREinMIND counsellor for emotional and practical advice on how to deal with suicidal feelings. It’s free and can be accessed at any time.
The reasons behind each suicide are unique. So too are the ways that people react. Look after yourself, and remember that it’s ok to feel positive and happy for the future.
How long it affects you does not show how much you loved the person who died. You will never forget them — but you are allowed to move on.
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.