Suicide Survivors & Guilt

Suicide Survivor Guilt

Guilt is very common in suicide survivors and can be external or internal. External influences of guilt occur when others blame the suicide on family members. Internal guilt occurs when the survivors blame themselves for the suicide, for not recognizing suicidal tendencies, and for not being a better parent, spouse, sibling, or grandparent. Often survivors experience anger and rage against the loved one that abandoned them. This in turn generates guilt in the survivor (Feigelman, Gorman, Beal & Jordan, 2008).

Smolin and Guinan (1993) write that suicide victims were often alcoholic or drug dependent and family members often blamed themselves for the victim’s behavior and self-destructiveness. Guilt and responsibility sets in when the person finally kills him or herself. The same guilt previously experienced over not getting them to quit their substance abuse is now felt over the suicide. Maple, Plummer, Edwards, and Minichiello (2007) add that parents exhibit guilt at their own inability to identify signs that their son or daughter’s suicide was imminent. The parents of children who committed suicide report that guilt was the most distressing emotion experienced at the time of the death of their child (Vessier-Batchen & Douglas, 2006).

A study by McIntosh and Wrobleski (1988) found that guilt was equal in all kinship relations. Whether it was parental, spousal, child, or sibling suicide, guilt was equally felt by all family members regardless of who committed suicide.

Guilt does moderate for those who are further removed from the suicide. It needs to be pointed out that declines in guilt were associated with the increase in the number of months since the death. However, the greater the initial guilt experienced, the less the decline in guilt later. In other words, those with greater amounts of guilt just after the death were less likely to report declines in guilt or likely to report lesser declines, while those with lower amounts of guilt originally were more likely to indicate lower levels currently (McIntosh & Wrobleski, 1988).

Postvention is a term coined by Schneidman (1969) and means helping grieving family members of suicide, the suicide survivors. The role of the therapist in postvention is two-fold:

  • To help the suicide survivor deal with grief through the emotions and feelings of shock, denial, helplessness, blame, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, suicidality, and other psychosocial issues that survivors work through.
  • To help the suicide survivor utilize resources that have been known to help other survivors.

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Course excerpt from:

The Suicide SurvivorThe Suicide Survivor is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that provides an understanding and means of helping the people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

One of the most difficult and complex emotional adjustments many individuals will ever face is the challenging and often lengthy process of dealing with the suicide of a family member or other loved one. These people are called suicide survivors; the family members and close friends who have experienced the death of a family member or loved one by suicide.

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence because nearly 45,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States alone. Estimates are that an average of six individuals experience major life disruption as a consequence of every suicide. The cascade of emotions that follow can be both unexpected and overwhelming, and many of the survivors who most need assistance in the form of supportive counseling do not receive it.

This course will provide information and helping strategies for health professionals who work with individuals who are struggling with both “normal” grief and complicated grief, sometimes described as “persistent complex bereavement disorder.” Also discussed are myths about coping with grief, the progression through the grief of suicide, stigmas associated with suicide, assessing for religious help, theories of grief, role of the therapist, needs of suicide survivors, and, finally, moving on. Course #21-26 | 2018 | 40 pages | 15 posttest questions

Course Directions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document).

CE Information

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

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