Certified Grief Counselor
Why am I writing about this issue? Grief/grieving is part of the human experience. It’s so hard to lose a loved one, but the loss of a loved one due to suicide is perhaps the most unbearable loss of all. The only thing worse is to lose a child by suicide. In my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP? An Angel To Remember, I speak of my daughter’s death as an involuntary decision caused by her BI-POLAR I DISORDER. As a result of her mental illness and her mind having been invaded and convoluted by this hideous interminable illness, she plunged to her death from a 15- story apartionstment. However much I would prefer to define and blame her death as a psychotic, delusional demand perpetrated by the mental disorder she suffered from for so many years, I must conclude that it took her life in the form of suicide. She is not the first to die in this manner, and will not be the last.
Losing a child is unnatural. Committing suicide is an act against nature. The preservation of life is the strongest will of all in human behavior. To live and maintain life is part of our human consciousness. Therefore, when such an act is committed, it defies human understanding. In most religions of the world, it is considered a sin, a crime against God and forbidden. The individual has to either believe there is no other solution, or holds the belief that life will be better after death. Those who suffer from Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder I and other psychotic mental disorders, such as Schizophrenia are more prone to suicide. They either feel hopeless, desperate or are irrational in their belief system. In many cases, patients who do not maintain their medication as prescribed, often lose reality and respond to the will of their disease. It is imperative that patients do not discontinue medication without discussing the decision with their doctor. Adolescents who are depressed often take a temporary condition and solve it with a permanent solution.
According to the National Mental Health Association, suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States and the 10th or 11th cause of death for young people aged 15-24. More years of life are lost to suicide than to any other single cause except heart disease and cancer. Thirty thousand Americans commit suicide annually: an additional 500,000 Americans attempt suicide annually. The actual ratio of attempts to completed suicides is probably at lease 10-1. Thirty to forty percent of persons who commit suicide have made a previous attempt. The risk of completed suicide is more than 100 times greater than average in the first year after an attempt – 80 times greater for women, 200 times greater for men, 200 times greater for people over 45, and 300 times greater for white men over 65. Suicide rates are highest in old age: 20% of the population and 40% of suicide victims are over 60. After age 75, the rate is 3 times higher than average, and among white men over 80, it is six times higher than average. Substance abuse is another great instigator of suicide; it may be involved in half of all cases. About 20% of suicides are alcohol abusers, and the lifetime rate of suicide among alcoholics is at least three or four times the average. Completed suicides are more likely to be men over 45 who are depressed or alcoholic. Suicide took the lives of approximately 35,000 Americans last year.
(*See National Mental Health Association Fact Sheet: Suicide)
The Mental Health Association gives the following warning signs. These symptoms do not necessarily mean that the person is suicidal, but may signal a need for help:
- Verbal suicide threats such as, “You would be better off without me,” or Maybe I won’t be around.”
- Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Previous suicide attempt.
- Daring or risk-taking behavior.
- Personality changes.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Lack of interest in future plans.
- Inability to function.
- Loss of interest in life.
WHAT TO DO
If you have reason to suspect that someone is depressed, irrational, or severely dysfunctional, you can assume that they may be vulnerable to committing suicide even if they deny such a thought. It only takes a second to make that choice. Most suicides are planned and thought out. Some are not. Sometimes all it takes is to ask the person if they have suicidal thoughts. That may open the door to revealing their feelings. We are often so afraid to ask that question due to our own fears, that we feel safer if we suppress the thought. Sometimes it is not even in our consciousness due to our own defense mechanisms such as denial and repression. It’s so difficult to consider it a possibility when you are close to someone who is ill. We tend to lose objectivity. This is why it is so important to get help. A good mental health professional will know what action needs to be taken; whether to refer the person to a psychiatrist for medication and evaluation, to hospitalize or to treat in a combination of ways. A family member or friend is ill-equipped to make a decision, but can make an intervention of encouraging seeking a mental health professional.
There are resources in every community that have telephone hotlines, local Mental Health Associations, and medical professionals. If you feel unable to help, call the national hotline, 1-800-273-talk
* (Google is an excellent resource for information about Suicide.)
GRIEF AFTER LOSS
Grieving is the healing feeling. It is a normal response to losing a loved one, whether mother, father, sibling, friend and the worst, a child. LIFE AFTER LOSS is the most common question most ask about: How do I move on? When will this pain and suffering go away? How can I cope knowing I will never see her/him again?
The five stages of grief that we first identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross are:
- Denial (“This couldn’t have happened or this is not real. It can’t be happening!”)
- Anger (“Why did this happen?” “Why me God?”)
- Bargaining (“Just let him live long enough to see his son marry”)
- Guilt (“What could I have done to have prevented this?” “Is this my punishment for not having been a better spouse/ boyfriend/partner/girlfriend, daughter son etc? Why did I not do this, that, etc?)”
- Acceptance (This was her destiny. She is in a better place. No more pain. We will be together someday”).
What I added to these five stages is “shock”. It comes before grief. The thought that a loved one was taken away from us either suddenly or with expectations is still a shock. Shock affects us both physically, emotionally and mentally. Our heart rate and blood pressure can elevate to numbers we never had before. Our neuro-generative system is highly affected (sleeping, eating and digestion). We can become moody, often depressed, anxious and unpredictable. All these behaviors and mood swings are normal when we grieve.
Having a trained grief counselor is sometimes the best decision a griever can make.
For learning and understanding more about the grief process, read my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder.