LaRita Archibald

In defining emotional response to suicide we recognize symptoms of posttraumatic stress.  In the case of suicide survivors, rather than label the reactions as a "disorder", it seems apt to simply call them a 'normal reaction to an abnormal event' or defined by Dr. Bob Hoyle as "too much, too fast, too ugly".

Sufferers of posttraumatic stress disorder are not crazy.  They are reacting to an extremely traumatic experience.  They feel pain, disorientation and other emotions that seem so out of the ordinary they may fear they are losing their mind.  Suicide survivors should know that the symptoms of posttraumatic stress are more severe when people are reacting to "man-made" disasters (war, assaults, imprisonment, torture or the murder or suicide of a loved one) rather than natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

The symptoms of PTSD can show up immediately following the trauma or not for months or years.  They can last a short while; they can last a lifetime.  Because humans are good at denying or hiding feelings, especially when they are very painful, suicide survivors may experience night-mares that seem unrelated to the death of their loved one.  These may occur soon after the suicide or much later.  Hidden as the message of these nightmares may be, they can be an indication that fears, angers and guilts are still needing to be processed.

People suffering Post Traumatic Stress may…

Reexperience the trauma in one of the following ways:
     Recurrent recollection of the event.
     Dreams of the event.
     Obsession with what has happened.
     Suddenly feeling as if the event is recurring.

Experience a numbing or reduced involvement with the world by:
     Lessening of interest in important activities; sense of purposelessness
     in existence.
     Feeling detachment from other people and surroundings.
     A flat, emotionless feeling.

Have some of the following:
     Sleep disturbances.
     Guilt about surviving.
     Loss of memory, trouble concentrating.
     Exaggerated startle response.
     Avoidance of activities that arouse recollection of the trauma.
     Distrust self and others.
     Identity confusion and isolation.
     Hyper vigilance

Both the severity and duration of the symptoms depend on how the survivors of suicide trauma are subsequently treated.  Having to go it alone makes recovery from PTSD harder.  Having no chance to talk about the experience makes it harder.  Having no opportunity to understand what has happened and why it happened - guilt, stigma and silence - all make it harder.

Excerpts from:  Silent Grief, C. Lukas and H. Seiden

  © 2003 HEARTBEAT Grief Support Following Suicide.  All rights reserved.
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