My Grief Care

Grieving A Suicide

6 Episodes

Episode 5 : The Stigma of Suicide


Episode Notes

The Stigma of Suicide

Perhaps you feel as though you’ve been assigned to wear a big scarlet “S” viewed by everyone around you. You may believe others see you and your loved one in judgmental ways. You may see yourself through the lens of stigma.

What comprises this societal stigma? Let me share some of the more common societal beliefs about suicide.

People often believe that:

  • Suicide is the ultimate selfish act of a weak-willed person
  • Suicide is a death carried out to punish survivors
  • Suicide means the deceased was, by definition, seriously mentally ill
  • Suicide only happens with those from a dysfunctional family
  • Suicide is an unforgivable sin
  • Suicide is not a proper topic of conversation

And, certainly, there are more suicide-related misconceptions out there. Some of these beliefs even touch on truth, but a more thorough and nuanced understanding of suicide shows us that an individual’s act of suicide is anything but simple.

Some may believe that a person must be seriously mentally ill to take their own life. Well, there are indeed clear statistical correlations between some specific mental illnesses and suicide. But suicide and mental illness are not the simple cause and effect relationship that many believe it to be.

A better way, I think, to make sense of the underpinnings of suicide, is thinking of basic symptoms that tend to precede a suicide.

As a therapist, I have observed that the victim of suicide was experiencing strong interwoven feelings of fearpain and hopelessness before taking action. Their fears may or may not seem realistic, their pain may be physical, psychological or both, and their overpowering sense of hopelessness has become an impenetrable fog blocking their ability to see the potential for a different future.

A struggling person at the point of carrying out a suicide has (at least momentarily) lost a clear sense of self-determination. They believe their sole remaining option is to choose whether or not to continue living a life they deem intolerable. They want their pain to end and are blind to other ways to alleviate it. And they don’t want you or anyone else to stop them at that point. Please take a moment and let that soak in. Failing to predict and prevent a person’s suicide is because they planned it so that you could not predict or prevent it.

Because of these misconceptions and the shocking nature of suicide, we can errantly begin to see that person’s life only through a lens tainted by his manner of death. It follows then that you may begin to remember your loved one that way.

A recent client of mine told me about her experience with exactly that issue: her husband had taken his life. She said, “All people seem to remember was his tragic death. But he was so much more than that. He was a really good man, a caring father and a loyal friend to many. He should be remembered for who he was and how he lived for over 50 years!”

Do you think she is right? Well, ask yourself: do you want the memories of your loved one to be mostly about their manner of death? Their choice to die is undoubtedly not how you wanted your relationship to end. And I don’t mean to minimize how shocking, painful and difficult their death is for you.

When you are ready, it may help you place the tragedy of their death into the bigger perspective of your overall relationship. Looking at the total relationship is probably the best way to address your loss and to put order to your memories of your loved one.


  • The societal stigma of suicide, sadly, does exist. And it is comprised by overly simplistic, conflicting and sometimes highly inaccurate beliefs.
  • We are sometimes responsible for projecting stigma upon ourselves and on our loved one, more than the opinions of others.
  • Understanding suicide is difficult, highly nuanced and never simple. And all too often, survivors like you are left to make their best guess as to why your loved one decided to die by their own hand.
  • People should be remembered for how they lived, more than how they died.


  • Ask yourself:  Am I focused more on my loved one’s manner of death than I am reflecting on our life together?
  • Then consider: What do I want to remember about my loved one?


How should a person’s story be told? Should we inscribe their life’s story in our hearts based exclusively on highlights or “lowlights?” Or should we give even more weight to who they were with us in the mundane and ordinary days of our lives together?