Do Suicide Survivors Suffer Social Stigma: A Review of the Literature


  • Jacqueline G. Cvinar, University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

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One of the delineating elements found in suicide bereavement versus normal bereavement is the stigma experienced by survivors. This review of the literature will provide insight into stigma as an underlying element in suicide bereavement and point to the role of health professionals in dealing with this complex issue. Historical review and empirical studies are analyzed to provide a framework for how suicide relates to natural bereavement. The conclusion is that suicide bereavement is different from natural loss. The challenge to health care providers is to sort through the complex issues surrounding the individual and their social network to find mechanisms that lead to resolution.

 Suicide has a profound effect on the family, friends, and associates of the victim that transcends the immediate loss. As those close to the victim suffer through bereavement, a variety of reactions and coping mechanisms are engaged as each individual sorts through individual reactions to the difficult loss. Bereavement refers to “all the physiological, psychological, behavioral, and social response patterns displayed by an individual following the loss (usually through death) of a significant person or thing” (Dunne, Dunne-Maxim & McIntosh, 1987). Bereavement following suicide is complicated by the complex psychological impact of the act on those close to the victim. It is further complicated by the societal perception that the act of suicide is a failure by the victim and the family to deal with some emotional issue and ultimately society affixes blame for the loss on the survivors. This individual or societal stigma introduces a unique stress on the bereavement process that in some cases requires clinical intervention.