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Guilt, Blame and The Complexity of Suicide

As the pandemic continues, the Alliance of Hope has experienced a surge in forum registrations as well as requests for individual Zoom consultations. It has been heartbreaking for me, to read posts and speak with newly bereaved loss survivors. Their pain is being exacerbated by isolation, economic challenges, and other stresses connected with COVID-19.

Over the last month, I have been particularly present to how many people fear – or are certain – that their words or actions, said in haste or anger, led to the suicide of a loved one. So many carry around a lead overcoat of guilt for doing – or for not doing – whatever it is they think had an effect. There is no doubt that each of us impacts our environments and other people by our actions. Yet, it is important to remember that there is almost always a confluence or convergence of variables involved in any one suicide – psychological, physiological, pharmaceutical, social, economic, and so forth. And it is also important to realize that hindsight profoundly alters our perspective on what happened. 

The same can be applied to our feelings of blame. Sometimes it is difficult to come to terms with how someone treated our loved one. Sometimes people do things that are terribly hurtful, dis-empowering, even evil. When we are treated that way – or when our loved ones are treated that way, our anger mounts. We want to cry “foul,” let the world know, and perhaps, even seek revenge.

And yet, while it is natural to feel sad or angry if they were mistreated, it is again important to remember – and this is not easy, especially in the first months and years – that there are many factors involved in suicide. We try to create a narrative around what happened, but we can never know for sure the full details of any relationship or why our loved one did what they did. We can never know all that was involved. We can observe that they faced life challenges or were not treated well or suffered intolerable pain or mental illness, but in the end, we never really can know all that was involved – all that led to that final act of ending Life.

As we mourn our loved ones and as we look to what makes a difference in the arena of suicide prevention, we need to remember that suicide is complex. We do our best to understand and to create a narrative, but it is never one thing. Suicide is the final “dance” of an individual with Life’s circumstances. A given circumstance may lead one person to end his life, but it might inspire another to take other actions. We are complex beings living in an extraordinarily complex society.

About the Author

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Ronnie Walker

Ronnie Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. She is a survivor of suicide loss.Read More »