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The ripple effect of Suicide

Updated on August 7, 2015

Have you ever dropped a pebble into a calm body of water out of sheer boredom? Just to watch it disappear? I found myself doing this the other day when out for a walk. A momentary splash, and the pebble is gone. However, when I looked a little closer at what I had done, I found that it was not exactly that simple. As the pebble faded from sight, the surface of water was sent into chaos. Despite the size of this tiny pebble, the impact and disruption it caused stretched far beyond its reach, and beyond the moment it was lost. Losing a loved one for any reason is a terrible experience. But nothing causes such grief and chaos quite like suicide. We too, suffer the same ripples of disturbance from a single loss.

The moment of impact.

In 2012, the World health organization reported that Suicide now accounted for approximately 1.4% of deaths on a global scale. This would make it the 15th leading cause of death in the world. And sadly, since then, the figures have not improved. These days, almost everyone you meet has had some brush with suicide. Whether they have struggled with the idea themselves on a personal level, or have lost a loved one or close friend as a result. Yes, on the outside they may appear to have a calm surface, but they have suffered the aftershock of a very unique form of loss.

Those loved ones who are left behind after a suicide are often referred to as "survivors of suicide". These survivors are left to deal with a range of thoughts and emotions such as;

  • Guilt- Why didn't I see this coming? Is there more I could have done? The survivors are left feeling as though they somehow failed their duties as a friend or loved one.
  • Anger- There is often a level of anger shown towards those who have committed suicide. They can feel abandoned and betrayed. This is where the notion that suicide is a selfish act comes from.
  • Stigma- In certain cultures, suicide is an extremely taboo subject. Even the word Suicide stirs up nasty thoughts and emotions. When a family loses a member to suicide in these cultures, they also suffer a degree of shame and embarrassment due to social stigma.
  • Shock- Death can always have the element of surprise, but as I already mentioned, suicide is a unique form of loss. Survivors can find it hard to believe that their loved ones would be capable of committing such an act.

These issues are also added on top of the usual troubles the loss of a loved one brings. There are the well known "Five Stages of Grief", which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This framework for dealing with loss is disrupted by the uniqueness of suicide making the process much more difficult.

The ripples

The mental and emotional distress caused by a suicide can trigger mental health problems in loved ones and close friends including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This increases the likelihood of one or more suicides within that group.

For survivors who suffer from major depression or PTSD after a loved one dies by suicide, often, support groups are simply not enough. They often require medicated assistance and extensive psychotherapy. There is no one universal cure for the complicated grief that follows such a loss, which is why an open mind is needed in the approach. There needs to be an understanding of what you are dealing with when such an even causes nothing but pain and confusion. So while support groups are not the sole cure, they are invaluable in the sense that no matter what feelings you may be experiencing there are others who can understand what you are saying, even when you cant find the words.

It would be insulting for me to ramble on about how parents must live when they lose a child, or how children must grow up having lost a mother or father to suicide when I have been so fortunate and have not experienced such a tragedy. This is precisely why support groups are so necessary. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get your point across when you know that no matter how loud the scream or how soft the cry, the person just wont get it. Then there are always those who don't wish to speak at all, and instead just simply might wish to know they are not alone.

The ripple effect of suicide is not just confined to loved ones and close friends however. If an at risk individual reads or hears about the intimate details of an others death by suicide, they may identify with that situation and may then associate suicide as a viable option for them too. There are phenomenons known as "Suicide Clusters" and "Copycat Suicides" becoming more and more and more common, especially among teens. Some have suggested the media coverage is to blame. Between April and June 2011, there were a string of 13 suicides in Co Cork, Ireland. Then, only 30 kilometers away there were a further 7 suicides between September and October of that same year. Fears of these trends increase even with the deaths of high profile celebrities who die by suicide. The more high profile the suicide, the more risk is associated with its coverage. This phenomena is not necessarily a new occurrence however. The popular magazine, "Psychology Today" published a piece on the topic on August 28th 2012. In the article, Its publisher Romeo Vitelli Ph.D, wrote that in 1980, two young girls in Sri Lanka died by suicide as a result of eating the poisonous seeds of the Yellow Oleander, a common shrub in the region. In that year, there were a further 23 deaths due to oleander poisoning and a further 46 of the same method the following year. Each suicide producing a ripple of its own. A link to the article will be posted below.

The calm

You will never "get over" the loss of a loved one, but you can get through it. In the midst of chaos it is hard to foresee calm, but it can be reached. It is okay to grieve, it is okay to cry, just as it is also okay to forgive, to heal and to laugh. The memory of a loved one is not the same as the pebble we watched fading away into the water. It is something we will always carry with us. Processing grief requires us to be patient and work hard to accept that there are things we simply wont understand. We cant force our own logic into the acts of others. Nor can we expect ourselves to be the one to have prevented their death. The same is true for when we see someone we care for going through this grief. We cannot fix everything for them either, no matter how much we would like to.

It is important to remember that your life matters too, that there are people who hold you just as close to their hearts and vice versa. Grief is not yours to carry alone. Do not be afraid to express yourself and to share how you are feeling. And do not be afraid to work to be happy and to laugh again. You are not betraying a persons memory by doing so. In fact it is on the contrary. If you feel guilty about returning to your old routine, start a fresh new one while simply making remembering them a part of it. The ripples will fade with time and calm is possible. The late Filipino Politician and journalist Cerge Redmonde put it best when he said,

"Don’t let the pains of one season
overshadow the joys of the rest of the year.
Try not to judge life
by one difficult season;
cherish instead
the exceptional seasons
given you in love."

© 2015 Sean Gorman


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    • profile image

      Pauline Watkins 

      3 years ago

      Insightful and sensitive. A website I will recommend

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When my sister's ex-husband committed suicide the ripple affect reached not only the children and extended family, but the entire community around them. It was devastating for them, and still has repercussions years later.


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