The Impact Of Suicide On The Family

Topics: Family, Suicide, Death Pages: 23 (5761 words) Published: March 2, 2015
The Impact of Suicide on the Family Julie Cerel1, John R. Jordan2, and Paul R. Duberstein3 1 College of Social Work, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA, 2 The Family Loss Project, Pantucket, RI, USA, 3 University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA Abstract. Little research has examined the consequences of a suicide for social or family networks. Because suicide occurs within families, the focus on the aftermath of suicide within families is an important next step to determine exactly how to help survivors. In this article, we review and summarize the research on the impact of suicide on individuals within families and on family and social networks. We begin with a discussion of family changes following suicide. Next, we discuss the effects of suicide on social networks overall and responses of children and the elderly to a suicide in the family. Finally, we identify key issues that remain to be resolved in family survivor research and make recommendations for future studies. Keywords: suicide, survivor, bereavement While an individual suicide is often a solitary act, family and friends are almost always left behind to grieve, try to understand the reasons for the death, and learn to carry on with their lives. Only recently have their needs been addressed (Clark, 2001; Jobes, Luoma, Hustead, & Mannuzza, 2000), as exemplified by a workshop sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2004). A product of that workshop, this article reviews and summarizes the research on the impact of suicide on individual family members, family dynamics, and social networks. We begin with a discussion of family changes following suicide. Next, we discuss the effects of suicide on social networks overall and responses of children and the elderly to a suicide in the family. Finally, we identify key issues that remain to be resolved in family survivor research and make recommendations for future studies. Family Members as Survivors Before reviewing the literature on the impact of suicide on the family, one must first consider two problems inherent to family research on suicide survivors. First, most studies examine only one type of survivor (i.e., parent, child, spouse) and do not take into account how reactions of family members influence each other and the tone of family communication. Second, the quality of the previous relationships within the family is rarely determined, making it difficult to comment on the specific implications of the death for family relationships and communications in the aftermath of the suicide. In a longitudinal study of parents bereaved by the sudden violent death (including suicide, accident, or homicide) of their child, Lohan and Murphy (2002) [in refs only Lohan]used the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales (FACES; Lohan, 2002) to document difficulties with family functioning after a child’s suicide. These difficulties included decreases in cohesion (defined as “emotional bonding that family members have toward one another”) and adaptation (defined as “the ability of a marital or family system to change its power structure, role relationships, and relationship rules in response to situational and developmental stress”). While few changes in family factors were unique to suicide, the authors hypothesize that families do not actively make changes following a violent death to help the family as a unit effectively cope. Parental functioning may influence surviving family members, especially children at home who may be faced with parents who are less emotionally available to them (Lohan, 2002). Likewise, in a study of 13 widows whose husbands had died by suicide compared with 13 widows whose husbands had died in accidents, McNiel, Hatcher, and Reubin (1988) found some differences in family communication, support, and intimacy following both types of death. While widows in...
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