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The People Left Behind

Posted by Bill on November 24, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Too often parents or loved ones get blamed for people’s suicide decisions. Society is quick to make assumptions. They explain away suicide victims by saying things like, “If they had better parents, environments, education or socio-economic status this tragedy wouldn't have happened.” This is faulty thinking. In actuality, no one is immune to becoming a person-at-risk for suicide.


“Each year in Canada nearly 4,000 people end their lives by suicide. Research shows that for every death by suicide, 6-10 other individuals are profoundly affected. By this estimate, between 24,000 and 40,000 Canadians become survivors of suicide loss every year. Grief and bereavement from suicide loss can be a wholly unique, isolating, and often stigmatizing experience.”

Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2014


The reasons that contribute to a person’s choice to suicide are too numerous and too individualized to pinpoint any specific causes. This is the great tragedy that those who suffer suicide loss usually face. They are the ones left behind trying to make sense of it all while being frowned upon and treated poorly by those outside the situation. Family members, neighbours and those in the community who point the finger and play the blame game.


To make matters worse the people left behind are often forgotten. They live with intense grief and guilt. In time, those who grieve can also become a person at risk themselves. The cycle of suicide continues in a family and in a community. It becomes a generational curse – a cycle of suicide.


So, what do we do? LivingWorks Canada provides an internationally endorsed solution to this question. Train members of a community to be ready, willing and able to intervene. The ASIST workshop equips community helpers with an effective model. Trainees learn to hear and see the invitations (or indicators) that persons-at-risk are communicating. These are not always easy to spot. ASIST also teaches helpers how to listen to and understand what the person at risk for suicide is going through. Active listening can help them feel cared for and understood. Skillful reframing of dark thoughts into thoughts connected to life brings them back. Trust is partially restored and they want to be safe – to have hope again.


As for those suffering from suicide loss, they can find a safe place to share their pain during the ASIST workshop. They are able to speak openly and candidly about their experience and the emotions of grief they are struggling with. The greatest tragedy is when people that suicide are not talked about. Worse yet they are talked about in a negative way. This needs to stop.


Communities must start honouring the life that was lost prematurely. Suicide is a tragedy and the people we lose are victims. The great moments and memories of their life must not go unmentioned. Their life must be celebrated. In time, their pictures can be put back up again. When their name is mentioned it should be with smiles on our faces. Because we love them. Because we miss them.

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