Left Behind By Suicide

On World Suicide Prevention Day, Amanda Lin Costa observes that the stigma attached to suicide extends even to the friends and family of victims:

William Feigelman, Ph.D, is a suicide counselor who himself lost a child to suicide. When studying the stigma related to a child’s suicide he found that “53 percent of suicide survivors reported harmful responses from one or more family member groups following their loss and 32 percent reported harmful responses from at least one non-kin group.” These responses were divided into seven types: 1) Avoidance: “People who I thought would be at the funeral or send a sympathy card didn’t show any acknowledgment of the death.” 2) Unhelpful advice: “Haven’t you grieved enough already?” 3) Absence of caring interest: “If I started talking about my lost child, they quickly changed the subject.” 4) Spiritual advice: “He’s in a better place now” or “It was meant to be.” 5) Blaming the victim: “That was a cowardly thing he did.” 6) Blaming the parent: “Didn’t you see it coming?” 7) Other negative comments: “Well at least he didn’t kill anyone else when he died.”

In the United States, at least the stigma of suicide is being addressed by the acknowledgment that suicide is a mental health issue. In some countries mental illness carries such a heavy stigma that it compounds the problem. South Korea currently has the highest suicide rate per capita, according to The World Health Organization. South Koreans, like residents of many Asian countries rarely seek support for mental illness or depression, the leading cause of suicide. In Japan, suicide survivors are often forced to pay for expensive purification rituals, or even the remodeling of an apartment or buildings, because a loved one’s suicide has made the property un-rentable.

It was once even worse: As the historian Georges Minois notes in History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture, suicide victims’ families were once forced to surrender all of their property to the state, a practice that endured well into the late 17th century. And, as recently as the late 19th century, “attempted self-murder” was a crime punishable by death.