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Articles

Still a lonely road ahead for those left behind
18th August 2003
By: JULIE-ANNE DAVIES AND STEVE WALDON
From section: Perspective News
Publication: The Age
The Age. Reproduced by Permission


Suicide is still a taboo topic and the stigma for families of suicide victims remains very real.

Those who choose death are consistently accused of being "selfish", especially if children are left fatherless or motherless.

At the funeral of Western District suicide victim Simon Gubbins this year, former long-standing Liberal Party MP Ian Smith spent part of his eulogy attacking widespread attitudes to suicide.

"I have been appalled by some people's lack of understanding, compassion and sensitivity - the shallow prattle that abounds is breathtaking in its inaccuracy," Smith said.

The medical explanation is that those who choose to kill themselves are not making a true choice; they are in a delusional state and therefore should not be posthumously judged for the pain they leave in their wake.

Put simply, when many men enter the final stage of committing suicide, they are mentally in another place.

Suicide, by its nature, is a very different death to illness or accident, and for those left behind the intensity of their grief can last far longer than those bereaved by other types of deaths.

Guilt, feelings of failure, loss of self-esteem, recriminations - all are common emotions. When a middle-aged man takes his life, he often leaves a grieving wife, parents, siblings and children, as well as friends and workmates.

There are few specific support services for those bereaved by suicide.

One, the Community Bereavement Service, based in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, was established a year ago and was immediately overwhelmed by the numbers of people who had lost loved ones to suicide.

Most of the bereaved had lost adult men.

According to Chris Peck, the manager of the program, the isolation, guilt and trauma often associated with suicide bereavement extends the "normal" bereavement journey.

LIFELINE 131 114

JUST ASK RURAL MENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION 1300 131 114

COMMUNITY BEREAVEMENT SERVICE 1300 130 813

"Research has suggested the first six years are a very different bereavement experience than an expected death," Peck says.

"The first few years may be lonely, with the bereaved often believing that no one else has any sense of what they are experiencing, and not receiving permission from the community to talk about their experience."

She says people can be relentlessly troubled by thoughts of how they may have been able to prevent the death. At the Melbourne branch of another support network, Compassionate Friends, organisers Jon and Sue Stebbins recognised they needed to start a separate group for parents and siblings bereaved by suicide.

When they surveyed about 90 participants, a third said they had felt anger at real or implied messages that they "should be over it by now" or "should get on with life".

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