Bereavement due to suicide

People's perceptions of why the suicide took place

After a suicide friends and relatives want to know why it occurred. They try to make sense of what happened. Many people told us that they thought their family member had ended their life because they had been feeling unhappy or depressed. Bereaved relatives suggested many reasons that might have contributed to such feelings, including bullying at school, loss of a job, stress at work, a move to a new town and lack of support, unhappy or violent relationships, financial difficulties, negative reactions to family events, and chronic illness.

Some people told us that their relative who had died due to suicide had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which used to be called “manic depression”.

Stuart said that his ex-partner, Anne, had had symptoms such as headaches and blurred vision. At first she was diagnosed with depression and then with generalised anxiety disorder. The doctors could find no underlying physical cause for her symptoms and eventually diagnosed chronic somatisation (a long-term condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found). The realisation that ‘chronic’ meant ‘long term’ really worried her, since she could see no end to her problems.

People suggested many other reasons why a member of the family had decided to take their own life. Some people said that relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia, or another mental health problem, had been discharged from hospital without adequate follow up care. Others said that illegal drugs might have made mental health problems worse or might have even caused the death. 

Amanda thought sexual abuse might have been a factor in her son’s death.

Ann said that she thought her friend felt that she was becoming a burden due to her chronic fatigue syndrome and found it hard to deal with that.

One woman we talked to said that her father had decided to die by suicide at the age of 78 because he had incurable stomach cancer. For at least 20 years he had told his children that did not want a “lingering death”. His wife had died and he was very lonely. Another woman told us about how her family helped her father to end his own life in Switzerland. He had mainly lost his motor neurone function and wanted assisted suicide.

For more information on assisted dying see Dignity in Dying’s website.

Lynne thought that perhaps her mother’s mental health problems became much worse when her doctor rapidly reduced the medicines she was having. Her mother had recently moved house and was seeing a new GP, which made the situation more difficult.

Some of the people we talked to believed that their relative had not intended to take their life.

Some people remained perplexed and had no idea why the suicide had taken place. Michael does not know why his friend killed himself. He was not aware that he was unhappy. Linda had no idea that her daughter was feeling unhappy or depressed when she took her life. Bob says his son concealed his worries: perhaps the attitude that “men don’t cry” was the reason.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated October 2012.

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