When a Family Member Dies by Suicide
embrace U wants to remind you that suicide affects millions of people yearly. Suicide is an important topic close to us at embrace U. It is part of one of our team member’s reasons for working in the mental health field. Today, we share her experience with you.
Sydney Freeman’s cousin was 19 when he died by suicide. Having lost her grandfather to suicide a year earlier, the news shocked Sydney. It was devastating enough to lose her grandfather, but her younger cousin was gone, too.
“He was my best friend,” Sydney recalls. “He left a note, but it did not make any sense. None of it makes sense.” Sydney wonders if there were signs that the family missed. This is a common reaction in family survivors. She struggles with feeling responsible, although she knows it was not her fault.
America’s adolescent mental health crisis increases the risk of death by suicide. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the rate of adolescent suicide grew during the pandemic. Adolescents are at a vulnerable stage, and growing pressures can have fatal results.
Families need information about suicide prevention. They need support for adolescents’ mental health concerns before suicide is a risk. embrace U was founded to support and treat adolescents ages 10-18 with mental health issues.
Suicide and Teens-Risk Factors
There are many reasons why adolescents may be at risk of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides the following list:
- Drug or Alcohol Use: Adolescents often experiment with drugs and alcohol. They are unaware of the damage caused to their developing brains. Sometimes they trigger secondary issues like mental illness or addiction to harmful substances. These issues can cause them to act impulsively and recklessly, putting their lives at risk.
- Family History of Suicide: If another family member has died by suicide, the adolescent might view it as an escape from their problems. They may reason that it is an acceptable way to deal with pain. If the family member’s death was recent, there is a higher risk for all family members, so care should be taken.
- Family Problems: Divorce or conflict with parents are two potential triggers for adolescents. When they experience violence in the home, they may develop feelings of worthlessness. They may feel abandoned by their parents. These types of feelings can cause them to withdraw further.
- Social Isolation/Bullying: Teens who are bullied or lack many social connections might be prone to depression or self-harm. Adolescents may feel that no one wants them around and that they are a burden. If bullying is extreme, the child might want to make it stop but not know how.
How Suicide Impacts the Family Survivors
“There are so many emotions that come with losing a loved one to suicide. Even though you know it is not your fault, you carry the pain that maybe there was something you could have done to stop it,” Sydney remembers.
Suicide is a family epidemic. It hurts those left behind and leaves them full of unanswered questions. Harvard Medical School has highlighted several of the impacts felt by survivors when a family member dies from suicide.
Below is a list of these impacts and how they affect family survivors.
Traumatic aftermath. Survivors are often asked to identify their loved ones or answer questions about the scene. Sometimes the scene may be violent or traumatic for the loved one to see. Loved ones are reeling from a shocking situation, only to be met with questions from police and medical personnel.
Stigma and isolation. Suicide can isolate survivors from their community and even from other family members. “I remember feeling a need to protect my cousin from the judgment of others. I didn’t want him to be defined by how he died.” Additionally, survivors may struggle with the ongoing stigma surrounding mental illness. Family members will respond differently. Conflict may arise about what and how much to tell others. Family members might find themselves at odds instead of giving each other support.
Mixed emotions. The loss of a loved one to suicide can bring forth a range of emotions that can be difficult to navigate. Survivors often feel abandoned and rejected by their loved one that has passed.
Need for reason. “Suicide can shatter the things you take for granted about yourself, your relationships, and your world,” says Jack Jordan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-author of After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief. Survivors often play the “What if” game. They wonder if there was something they could have done. They may overestimate the role they could have played. They want to know everything they can about the circumstances to make sense of their grief.
A risk for survivors. As with any loss, losing a loved one to suicide can bring questions to those left behind if life is worth living. For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, that risk is heightened. Professional help must be looked for if these feelings persist or become intense.
“Losing someone so young. I cannot help but think about what he might have been or where he would be right now. I wish I could give him one more hug.” Sydney says.
Warning Signs that a Loved One May Be At-Risk for Suicide
Sydney still grieves the loss of her cousin, but she knows sharing her story is an important part of her healing. “I want other people to know that it can happen to anyone. I want people to pay attention to the teens in their life and understand the warning signs. Ask questions and encourage them to talk with you.”
Here is a list of warning signs provided by the American Psychological Association.
Be on Alert if your teen:
- Exhibits drastic changes in behavior
- Gives away prized possessions
- Has attempted suicide before
- Has recently experienced serious losses
- Has trouble eating or sleeping
- Increases alcohol or drug use.
- Loses interest in their appearance
- Loses interest in school, work, or hobbies
- Prepares for death by writing a will and making final arrangements
- Seems preoccupied with death and dying
- Takes unnecessary risks
- Talks about committing suicide
- Withdraws from friends or social activities
The Healing Journey
Sydney knows that the loss of her cousin has changed her and is now something she carries with her daily. Part of her healing comes from her position as an embrace U marketing professional. “Working with embrace U fills my cup in a way that I never expected,” Sydney says. “I see myself continuing the legacy of my loved ones in my daily work.” Through her pain as a survivor of suicide loss, Sydney shares her story to encourage others. She wants anyone who may be struggling to realize they are not alone and that there is hope.
If your child needs support for mental health issues, embrace U is here to help. Contact us at 615-236-8619. You are not alone!
If you are in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help:
- Call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
- The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).
- Adolescent mental health
- Family stress
- Family therapy
- Losing a loved one
- Mental healthcare in Tennessee
- Teen mental health
- Teen suicide