Losing a family member to suicide is extremely painful. No matter how old the deceased is, suicide carries with it confusion, questions, and stigma. The surviving family members can feel isolated and alone and unable to accept help grieving their loss because of the way in which their loved one died. But when a teen commits suicide, it is especially difficult for everyone involved. Parents of teens who commit suicide suffer extreme stress and can even experience negative psychological consequences as the result of such a devastating loss. Grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members are also affected. Although there are programs in place to address the needs of suicide survivors, few researchers have looked to the families of the suicide victims for guidance. Understanding the needs of these fragile families is key to developing effective programs for suicide grief recovery.
David Miers of the Mental Health Services Department of the Bryan LGH Medical Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, sought to address this issue. Miers contacted six parents who had survived the suicide of their teens and invited them to participate in his study. He asked them what their most immediate needs were following the death of their children. Based on the responses, Miers discovered six main factors that parents reported would be most helpful to people experiencing a child’s death by suicide.
One factor was professional support. The parents reported that they would have benefited greatly from emotional and therapeutic support immediately after the death. They also believed that teens should be made aware of warning signs so that a child could inform someone if they had a friend at risk for suicide. The parents noted that although the emergency personnel who were first on the scene of the suicide were able to complete the functions of their jobs, they would have liked them to offer resources for coping with the death. One area that first responders could be educated in is ways in which they could allow parents to view their children without causing disruption to the responders and the investigation. Even though the child is deceased, a parent still feels the need to protect and care for their child, and viewing the body could help the parents meet that need.
The participants also noted the importance of having another parent survivor present at the time of death or immediately following for emotional support. And finally, all of the parents demonstrated a desire to give back and provide help to other families struggling with the death of their teen. Miers believes that although his participant pool was very small, these responses provide insight into the needs of families trying to overcome the devastation of suicide. He added, “With this limitation in mind, it is the authors’ belief that these findings should be considered when providing suicide prevention training, especially those provided to first responders, clinicians, volunteers, clergy, community members, and schools.”
Miers, D., Abbott, D., Springer, P. R. (2012). A phenomenological study of family needs following the suicide of a teenager. Death Studies, 36.2, 118-133.
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