Wait, Who Is A Suicide Survivor Again?

Across the Internet and elsewhere, people apply the term suicide survivor to two different groups of people: 1) people who struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, and survived, and 2) people who were never suicidal at all, but who lost a loved one to suicide. 

In a post last year, I defined a suicide survivor as someone who lost a friend, family member, or other loved one to suicide. I explained my use of the term this way:

The term “suicide survivor” – or “survivor of suicide” – is reserved for those left behind. It is used in the same sense that an obituary will say, “The deceased is survived by ….”  

I was hardly alone. For decades, thousands of people – including researchers, suicide prevention advocates, lawmakers, and ordinary people – have used the term “suicide survivor” (or “survivor of suicide”) specifically for people who lost a loved one to suicide. The psychologist Edwin Shneidman, considered the father of modern suicidology, applied the term “survivor of a suicide” to people who lost a loved one to suicide as early as 1965.

Since then, numerous groups refer to people who lost a loved one to suicide as “suicide survivors” or “survivors of suicide,” including the World Health OrganizationAlliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors, and even the U.S. Congress, which 15 years ago established National Survivors of Suicide Day (the Saturday before Thanksgiving) to recognize people who lost a loved one to suicide.

In the last 40 or so years, numerous books targeting “suicide survivors” have helped people move through their grief, books like Survivors of SuicideSuicide Survivors HandbookSuicide Survivors: A Guide for Those Left BehindMeditations for Survivors of Suicide, and No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One.

Times are Changing

Despite the term’s long history, I will no longer refer to people who have lost somebody to suicide as “suicide survivors” on this website, Speaking of Suicide. Instead, I will use the term “suicide loss survivors.”

Here’s why:

www.talkingaboutsuicide.com

www.talkingaboutsuicide.com

In recent years, a great number of people have come forward and publicly disclosed that they seriously considered suicide or made a suicide attempt. These courageous individuals have brought into the light a problem long stigmatized and hidden.

Blogs such as talkingaboutsuicide.com, attemptsurvivors.com, and livethroughthis.org contain photographs, interviews, personal accounts, and even videos of hundreds of people who thought about or attempted suicide, almost always with their full names attached. In just the last few months, articles highlighting this movement toward openness and advocacy have appeared in the New York Times, and the Boston Globe.

livethroughthis.org

livethroughthis.org

As more and more people with “lived experiences” of suicide have spoken out, the clashing definitions of “suicide survivor” have created ever more confusion. David Webb, PhD, is a suicidologist who survived a suicide attempt. He writes:

 

“When I first started looking at the suicide literature, I did a Google search on ‘suicide survivor’, hoping to connect with fellow survivors. Google replied with dozens, maybe hundreds, of hits but instead of fellow survivors, I found that this language had been claimed by those bereaved by suicide. I was rather taken aback by this… It seemed like we were invisible to Google and I felt that even the language we might use to identify ourselves had been stolen.” 

www.attemptsurvivors.com

www.attemptsurvivors.com

Increasingly, people who made it through a suicidal crisis are claiming the term “suicide survivor” for themselves – people like Andrew O’Brien, the veteran who proclaims in an online video, referring to his outreach to soldiers, “I am a suicide survivor from PTSD… [one day] I told my suicide story to 500 uniformed soldiers, and I am not embarrassed by it.”

Major suicide prevention organizations are responding to the language controversy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention changed the name of its International Survivors of Suicide Day to International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. The American Association of Suicidology now has a category on its website for suicide loss survivors. 

Those who got out of a suicidal crisis alive really did survive a battle with suicide. Suicide tried to kill them, quite literally. And they lived to tell about it.

A Disclaimer

© Skdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Skdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos

If you have lost a friend, son, daughter, spouse, sibling or other family member to suicide, you might identify as a “suicide survivor” even as others move away from the term. If you were to talk with me and call yourself a suicide survivor, I would never disagree or judge. What you call yourself is up to you, and the term “suicide survivor” may hold great meaning for you.

This post is not meant to imply rules or mandates for others to follow. Instead, I simply want to explain the terminology that I use on this website, and why. 

Two groups of people with different needs and, in some ways, different agendas are going by the same name. It is confusing, and, to some people who have been through a suicidal crisis, it is hurtful, too. 

Who Came First?

Suicide loss survivors were the first to adopt the term suicide survivors on a massive scale. Yet they were not the original suicide survivors.

I looked on Google Scholar for the first academic article ever to refer to suicide survivors. Among the many thousands of journals searchable by Google, the term suicide survivor first appeared in 1959, in an article that referred to “a post-slaying suicide survivor who had to be institutionalized for four years before he recovered sufficient mentality to stand trial.”

Golden Gate Bridge suicide

In 1975, a journal article reported the fates of seven people who survived after jumping off the Golden Gate or Oakland Bay bridge. Its title? “Suicide Survivors: A Follow-up Study of Persons Who Survived Jumping from the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges.”

Still, even though there are a couple early references to suicide attempt survivors as “suicide survivors,” the term overwhelmingly has been used for people who lost a loved one to suicide.

Some people refer to suicide loss survivors by other terms. John R. Jordan, Ph.D., states, “In Europe and Australia, the more common language used to refer to this category of mourner is ‘the suicide bereaved’ or ‘the bereaved by suicide.’” I dislike these terms, because ideally bereavement is a time-limited period of mourning. Suicide loss is permanent.

Do Suicide Survivors Really Exist?

Regardless of who it is applied to, I have struggled with the term “suicide survivor.” Yes, someone who lost a loved one to suicide did not survive suicide. But really, nobody can survive suicide. Suicide is death. The only “death survivors” or “survivors of death” are those left behind. I presume this is why family and friends were called “suicide survivors” in the first place, just as people who lost a loved one to murder are called “survivors of homicide” and “homicide survivors.” 

But “suicide survivor,” when applied to people who have seriously considered or attempted suicide, is a sort of shorthand. No, people do not survive suicide, but they do survive a suicidal crisis or a suicide attempt. “Suicidal crisis survivor” is clumsy. Really, who talks that way? “Suicide attempt survivor” comes more naturally, and its use grows as more websites, organizations, and news articles refer to attempt survivors.

The term “suicide attempt survivor” is imperfect, too. It excludes people who fiercely battled – or still battle – with suicidal thoughts and impulses without acting on them. Say that suicidal thoughts stalk a woman day in and day out. Finally, one night she lies in bed, tearful and clutching in her hands the means to kill herself, even rehearsing using it in various ways without actually harming herself. For hours, suicidal thoughts assault her. Despite her pain, despite her hopelessness, she exerts tremendous restraint just to stay alive. 

Isn’t she a survivor, too? If so, a survivor of what?

A Caveat about Labeling

I expect that one criticism of this post will be why I feel the need to label people at all. Labels can be seen as dehumanizing – isn’t someone who survived a suicidal crisis or a suicide loss really just a person first?

I agree with person-first language. As a social work professor, I teach my students that there are no “borderlines,” only people with borderline personality, no schizophrenics, only people with schizophrenia. 

Labels can hurt, yet labels also can help. Whether we are talking about cancer survivors or suicide attempt survivors, trauma survivors or suicide loss survivors, the survivor labels can give people a way to connect with others like them, a sense of belonging, even a touch of pride and identity. They have survived

A Work in Progress

For now, at least, this site will use the labels “suicide attempt survivor” and “suicide loss survivor.” This certainly does not mean that SpeakingOfSuicide.com will exclude people who survived a suicidal crisis without making a suicide attempt, only that it will not refer to them by a shorthand label. 

Ultimately, I would like to see the term “suicide survivor” apply to people who have survived a suicidal crisis – any suicidal crisis. The suicidal thoughts or suicide attempt could have killed them, yet they made it out alive.

At the same time, I worry that the term “suicide survivor” for survivors of suicidal crisis creates too much confusion, because of the term’s use, as well, by suicide loss survivors. 

What do you think?

© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com

Photo purchased from Fotolia.com

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  1. I may have commented here before. I subscribed to whatever sends comments to this thread to my email. I read all of them. It is upsetting to read the pain and anger reflected in posts from people who have lost a loved one to suicide. I am an attempt survivor and I am so thankful to be here. I still fight depression but I have learned to fight it just as I would cancer or diabetes or heart disease. THANKFULLY the people I love also view depression as an illness i have, not as something I am or something I am doing to them. I hope that as depression is more openly discussed, others will see it as a disease to be treated instead of something that should be hidden. I truly believe that there would be less suicide attempts if depression were less a taboo subject.

    My heart breaks for those who are grieving the loss of someone they love to suicide. It is my prayer that there will come a day when the anger and resentment they feel is directed toward depression instead of the person they lost. I feel like this would allow people to grieve in a more healthy manner, as they would if they lost the person to cancer or heart attack or a car wreck. While I realize that suicide is different in that we do indeed take our own life, the level of pain and darkness a person is in at the time they take their life is unimaginable to someone who has not faced this demon themselves.
    I am so sorry that this is even something we have to discuss. We are not helpless to fight against depression, but it IS a fight. I hope that as time goes on, those who have lost someone to suicide will be able to direct their anger away from the person they lost to the depression who took that person from them.
    I would love to see the same outpouring of support for those suffering from depression and other mental illness that we see for other diseases like cancer. I think this would give survivors of all types the opportunity to DO something in response to being a suicide survivor.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve seen this response often. I for one am not in a position to comment on anyone’s anger about a suicide. I’m not sure if you were responding indirectly to my post below. But I am here to say my anger will never go away. And it’s PC bullshit to pretend there are not some of us justifiably anger. He gave up and checked out. You don’t know who he was and maybe I don’t either. But I know this. The survivors have to clean up the mess.
      I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hurt anyone here. Obviously folks come here from many perspectives. I feel especially for those who have lost children. That is just excruciating. But anger at someone who kills themselves is not out of bounds. The anger is much easier now, and its hollowed out for me. But please don’t tell me to direct it elsewhere. My father chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem and his family paid the price.

      • Kathleen says:

        Thank you, Kris, for your comment. I too am an attempt survivor and many of these posts from those who are loss survivors are upsetting for me to read. There is no denying that suicide has a huge effect on everyone involved and it is not unreasonable to feel angry over a loved one’s attempt or death. Being hurt by someone you love is a justifiable reason to be angry. Anger is often part of the grieving process even for car accidents or cancer. But that doesn’t mean anger isn’t hurtful to others.

        Allowing that anger to block out any compassion for people who struggle with suicidal thoughts and actions is hurtful. Allowing that anger to prevent learning more about suicide is hurtful. Spreading ignorant cliches about suicide is hurtful (ie “Suicide is selfish,” when in fact many people that kill themselves or attempt to truly believe everyone would be better off with out them so they are doing everyone a favor). It breeds secrecy and shame for everyone involved. It hurts those who have suicidal thoughts and actions. It hurts those who are loss survivors and don’t believe their loved ones were selfish, weak, etc. It hurts those who hold the anger because, justified or not, anger is a hard emotion to carry longterm in any situation.

        I didn’t choose to be suicidal any more than someone chose to have cancer. In fact, my attempt came after more than a year of intensive treatment and therapy, which I know is the case for many others as well. By no means am I saying therapy and medications don’t work (I am still in therapy), just that often by the time someone gets to treatment or therapy, they have been suffering for a very long time. Perhaps if there was more common knowledge about and less stigma of mental illness and suicide, like there is about breast self examinations, the dangers of smoking, and the benefits of wearing seatbelts, people would be able to get help sooner and suicide would become a rare or nonexistent occurrence.

      • Tom says:

        I have compassion for what suicidal people feel. I know pain and loss very well. I know depression, hell I take happy pills. And I have had a few days where I have felt true despair. All I could do was hold onto the boat and hope it didn’t capsize in the storm. I’m sure that’s brutal when it’s a regular occurrence.
        But mental illness is not cancer. The mind plays a central role in this “disease”. And it is a DIS-EASE. But, you helped get yourself here, maybe all by yourself. Your mind drove you here. But, we are the captains of our own ship, no one else can be. There is no one to save us but us. If we are good pilots we keep ourselves far away from the mountains. And that is one of our mind’s central jobs, to correct our course and our thinking. I don’t let myself anywhere near the edge. And correcting my thinking has been essential.

        I am not the first person searching for an end to pain or the search for meaning. I get out of myself and read. I read the works of the searchers.
        Thinking your family is better off without you is defective thinking of the highest order.
        If you are waiting for the world to get healthy in order for you to – that is defective thinking and will lead you to the bottom of the sea.
        Holding contrary thoughts is necessary for right thinking. Life is hard, unpredictable and cruel. Life is also easier for humans than it’s ever been. Those two things exist together. Being grateful makes holding these things together possible.
        However, you’re right I don’t have compassion for the act or attempted act of killing yourself. You can never be trusted again in my world view. People who try to kill themselves are perpetrators of chaos in their families. People call you “selfish” because your threats of self-harm are exhausting. I mean here you are criticizing me for a lack of compassion. Where is yours for your survivors? Right, you don’t really let yourself feel that. Cause then you wouldn’t even consider it, right?

        I am not here to be a troll. I have a dog in this fight. I am just here to say that the impact of suicide on families does not go away. And it doesn’t matter why. I am not going to dress it up nicely to protect your feelings.

        When you commit suicide you transfer (dump) your pain onto your families, and that may be the opposite of what you intend but that is your defective thinking talking. You have put yourself at the edge. Suicide is a choice. The illness is a part of you, it is not some disease separate from you. Don’t expect your family to ever really make peace with your permanent decision.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        Tom,

        It’s clear that you come at this from a place of pain, and I appreciate your efforts to engage and show compassion for people who experience suicidal thoughts. But it’s hard for me to read what you wrote. You’re so close to understanding the plight of many suicidal people, but then you blame them for what they are experiencing.

        You state, “…that is your defective thinking talking. You have put yourself at the edge. Suicide is a choice.” Yes, absolutely, people who are suicidal have have faulty thinking. Their mind is lying to them, typically because of mental illness, stress, trauma, or something else that happened to them – not something that they chose. The forces of suicide are not their fault. Their faulty thinking is not their fault. They didn’t put themselves at the edge. Please understand, nobody would choose to suffer so badly.

        As for the agency a person has when making the “choice” to die by suicide, please see David Foster Wallace’s excellent description of suicidal forces for a better understanding of this “choice.”

        It is possible to have compassion for both the suicidal person (including those who die by suicide) and for family members hurt by the person’s suicidal actions. Both the suicidal person and the person’s loved ones are victims of the forces of suicide.

        I agree with you that changing our thoughts – or recognizing that they are not true if we can’t change them – is valuable. It’s a central component of cognitive behavior therapy. But for many people, it’s also easier said than done. To tell a suicidal person simply to change their thoughts and pull themselves back from the edge is akin to telling someone with schizophrenia to just stop hearing voices, or someone with OCD to just stop experiencing obsessions and compulsions. If only it were so easy!

        I write more about these ideas in my post “Is It Selfish to Die in a Tornado?” I hope you will read it – and with an open mind, too.

        Thank you for sharing here. It gives people an opportunity to see a viewpoint that many have, and it gives me the opportunity to offer an alternative view.

      • Kathleen says:

        Tom, I am very upset by your comment. People do not choose to have mental illness. There are genetic and environmental components to mental illness that a person does not choose. There are scans showing how trauma and mental illness literally change the brain, just like cancer changes the body. This is all well documented and I would strongly encourage you to research the causes of mental illness. Although thoughts and beliefs can contribute to mental illness, mental illnesses are not just thought disorders.

        As for threats of self-harm being exhausting, I am sorry it is so difficult for you. I don’t mean that sarcastically because I have dealt with friends who had suicidal thoughts and actions and it is a difficult thing to deal with. I only hope you can consider how it is so much more exhausting to constantly have those thoughts and urges. For each time I have told someone about a thought or action, there are a hundred times I didn’t. (Also, calling someone selfish or exhausting for having/expressing thoughts of self harm is exactly why some people think their families would be better off without them.)

        As for criticizing you for lack of compassion, I never intended to criticize you or anyone else. I simply stated that that anger and lack of compassion is hurtful to many. I intended that as a fact, not a judgment.

        As for your comment that I don’t have compassion for the people close to me that would be affected by my suicide or that were affected by my attempt, you are could not be more wrong. Not wanting to hurt others was what stopped me from trying to kill myself for 8 years. There were multiple times I sat there with the means to do it and didn’t do it only because of my family. When I finally did try to kill myself, I was in a completely depersonalized state, meaning it was like watching myself in a movie or a dream. The last cognizant choice I actually made was to NOT hurt myself. Even in that state, the note I wrote and the messages I sent show that I just kept apologizing (although I do remember truly believing in that moment that people would get over my death easily). As soon as I saw my mom in the ER, in the midst of the chaos that was happening, I started profusely repeating “I’m sorry.” In the immediate days after my attempt, the guilt was overwhelming to the point that staff in the psych ward wanted to medicate me because I could not stop crying and shaking. I know many people that have thought about, wanted to, or tried to kill themselves and I can’t say that a single one of them did not care about how their loved ones would feel.

        Ideas like suicidal people don’t feel/allow themselves to feel compassion for their loved ones are exactly why I think there needs to be more talk and destigmatization of mental illness and suicide. If calling people things like selfish, weak, and stupid prevented suicide, suicide wouldn’t be one of the leading causes of death. The fact is those names don’t prevent mental illness and suicide anymore than they prevent cancer and heart disease. Understanding the underlying causes and the preventative measures is just as important with mental illness and suicide as it is with cancer and heart disease.

  2. Tom says:

    I have always considered myself a suicide survivor. I survived my father’s suicide when I was 5. Literally and figuratively. I tried to get him out of the smoke filled garage unsuccessfully. Luckily I got myself out. He even survived his own suicide, kind of. He ended up as a partial human in a nursing facility with little memory and physical disabilities for 25 years. So I have considered it a sentence without a period.

    I survived because I had a brave young mother who carried me and my younger brother through our turbulent “childhoods”. 50 years later I still feel the scars. Just like physical scars I touch them periodically and now they are just part of me. I’ve learned living well is the best revenge. It’s using my anger for good. I’ve had many failures too. Several failed marriages. I chose not to have children. Always been the right choice for me.
    But the anger can still come out. Father’s Day isn’t a good day generally for me. Whether he intended to or not, he murdered my childhood that day. Some part of me died that day. It took many years in uncontrolled orbit before I came down. I am stronger now for what happened to me. I know I will never give up, because the search is worth it. My mind keeps me in the game. It’s the search for happiness not it’s guarantee.

  3. Devan says:

    I made another attempt earlier this year. I have never seen myself as a survivor of anything. I had not heard of this term until reading this post. I have only viewed myself as a fighter. So I guess I’m a “Suicide Fighter”. Its what I do to stay alive, and its what I do everyday. I go into battle with my depression and my suicidal thoughts for myself, my family and friends. This doesn’t make me selfish. I fight for others just as much as I do for myself, more sometimes! It hurts me to think that others think of me as selfish for wanting to take my life, yet I’m battling this illness almost every moment of every day and have done for many years. It’s dammed exhausting, but it’s a fight I take on and I’m proud of that, not ashamed and not selfish, just hurt, afraid and needing more help than most.
    Fighter, not survivor.
    Stay strong.

  4. Eileen T says:

    Recently I attempted suicide. And thought the group was help for us the survivors of the crisis. The important ones we need the group and to support each other.
    I wad disappointed to find out it was not for us at all. So if there is support group please advise.

  5. Liz says:

    There should be a number to call for those who need immediate support as a suicide survivor.

  6. jill says:

    Your quote from Dr. David Webb states EXACTLY my thoughts and actions. This is the first time I have ever seen someone take the time and care to actually make a distinction. It IS important. Thank you!!

  7. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am a suicide attempt survivor and in looking for suicide attempt survivor support groups, all I kept finding were “suicide survivor” groups that were meant for people who have lost someone to suicide. I don’t want to say they are not survivors, because I believe they are, but seeing “suicide survivor” over and over again and knowing it excluded me was upsetting and invalidating. If they are the survivors of suicide, what am I? A suicide failure? Those extra words of “loss” or “attempt” or “crisis” might seem bulky or unnecessary to some, but to others, they are significant.

  8. Melissa Davis says:

    I am a suicide survivor. I survived the suicide of my brother. Had my brother survived, he would be a suicide survivor as well.

    I don’t know what a person who contemplates, attempts, or commits suicide bears before the decision. I do, however, know what I bore after my brother’s suicide. It was the hardest thing I have ever been through, and it destroyed parts of my immediate family. The shock waves lessen, but the damage is permanent.

    I, and most other family members, have been able to overcome the loss to a large extent, but it never goes away. I go through the same emotions when a celebrity commits suicide and makes the news. Depending on the circumstances, the intensity differs. But it still happens, and always will.

    I know this isn’t intended in the way I am reading, but no person here is more important than the other’s. No person’s voice or story is more important. We’re actually all in this together, regardless of how we survive it. Each of us are a different story and a different aspect of a tragic decision, and we’re all ostracized enough as it is.

    • kat says:

      Well said and thank you for being so brave to share your story. I am sorry you lost your brother but you are a wonderful sister/daughter/person for pointing out (respectfully) that we are all survivors in a way.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Family members of survivors of physical and sexual abuse are often referred to as “secondary survivors”. This acknowledges the impact on the life caused by the assault on the “survivor” without taking away from the survivor. I think this could also work for those close to suicide survivors and suicide victims.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe that the term “secondary survivors” is degrading. It suggests that the impact on a certain group of people is not as important as another, and further distances them from the issue.

      But maybe I’m just biased because of my situation.

      I’ve never attempted but I’ve been bombarded with suicide ideation, so I can relate to some of the mental processes of some people who attempt. But my mother committed suicide and I was very much aware of her ongoings. She was hospitalized on and off and medical professionals wouldn’t tell us much, if anything, because we weren’t directly the one with the problems–never mind the fact that our mental states, family dynamics, home life, etc had drastically changed and mentally destroyed my family. We had to hear again and again of her attempts. One attempt was done in front of me and I had to tell my dad to call an ambulance as I tried to keep her conscious until the medics arrived. She attempted at least ten times within ten months and the entire time we were aware and beside her. We were very much engaged in her experience as she was, just in a different way.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        Anonymous,

        I’m sorry about your loss, and about all the trauma that led up to the ultimate trauma. What devastation you describe! I hope you’ve gotten help for what you and your family went through. Some of the articles on the site about suicide loss survivors also might be of interest to you.

        Thank you for sharing here. It helps others grieving their own losses to know they are not alone.

  10. Rhonda says:

    I agree. I did not survive a suicide attempt. My son died by suicide and I’m still trying to identity how to survive that loss. I don’t know what I am but I’m not the survivor. I’m one left behind.

    • Dusti says:

      You could not have expressed my feelings more… I too lost my son to suicide and I certainly do not feel like a survivor.

  11. Shea says:

    The truth often is both meanings apply. When I lost my father to suicide, my own struggle with it began and continues.

  12. Tammy says:

    I won’t say I’m a survivor, Of my husbands suicide attempt, I’ve yet to decide if I will survive. April 10, 2016 my husband put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger in front of me and our grown son. He survived! Yet now he’s in a wheelchair, bed ridden, and parlalyzed on his left side. I have PTSD, severe depression, He lived and stole my life, im home bound taking care of him, lifting him, bathing him, wiping his ass, holding things that he can’t, struggling to help him learn to walk again, hoping that WE will have a life again. He frequently tells me he loves me, I NO longer love him, at times I hate him, I’m am glad he lives, but not at my expense. This would have been easier if it had been an accident, I wouldn’t blame him or resent him. I ask Why yet I’ll never know, He doesn’t know why, and Guilt keeps me a prisoner here, he is a young man of 49, the thought of putting him in a home for the rest of his life all alone just hurts my soul, such a lonely way to live, but then I think he didn’t want to live so why can’t I just do it, but inside what if he no longer feels this way? How can I tell? I never know if he has the capacity to think clearly, he remembers things from years ago, but he’s always hiding under the covers, covers his head constantly, I get so lonely here, he never talks to me except to tell me he needs help using the bathroom, WILL I ever survive? I don’t know.

  13. River Lackey says:

    I’m 25 years old and have been battling severe depression for over 10 years (though I suspect I may have had some milder form of it as a child, too). I survived a suicide attempt when I was 15 that landed me in the hospital, and I’ve survived countless suicidal crises since then.

    I understand the perspective of those who say that “survivor” doesn’t apply to us because it implies that our struggle is over and done with. And to some extent, I completely agree with that. I think the world tries to force chronic/long-term struggles like ours into a time-limited box — people want to step up and help you fight off your demons, then celebrate victory and move on. They don’t want to know that your demons will be back tomorrow, or next week, or next month. That being said, I can’t let myself think that way. It’s dangerous. Thinking that way reminds me that now, 10 years after my illness nearly killed me, I’m still fighting it daily and probably will be for the rest of my life.

    But more importantly, it critically undermines all the many, many battles I’ve fought and WON over the last 10 years. I have been fighting for my life — literally — for over a decade, and I’m still here. If that doesn’t make me a survivor then I don’t know what does! And no, the war isn’t over, and it probably never will be. But I’ve already survived 10 years of it, so I choose to validate that by calling myself a survivor. And who knows…maybe tomorrow I’ll be a survivor again. 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      You are a Survivor and a winner. You are stronger than you currently think.

      Every day you choose not to die, you are a winner. Every time you turn your thoughts from ending your life, you are a winner.

      Everytime you choose to think about the life you want, and take some positive action toward that life, you are a winner.

      Every day you choose life, you are a winner.

  14. Jack Rahilly says:

    8 Years ago I had a failed suicide attempt (I died ,but was brought back). When I got home from the Pysch Hospital in my area I looked for some place to go (like AA for alcoholics) I saw a listing for a meeting for suicide survivors (I survived mine),the meeting turned out to be for people who had lost someone to suicide. I was told I could stay through the rest of the meeting (just not talk about my own experience).Were the people who survived the sinking of the Titanic survivors or were the families of those who died the survivors ?

  15. I am a suicide survivor. A suicide attempt survivor if you will. I unsuccessfully tried to end my life almost 4 months ago. I have scoured the internet for SOMETHING that speaks to what I feel. There is little, if anything to identify with and many sites almost vilify someone like me. I am in counseling and my counselor has suggested we start a support group for people like me.
    It is sad and frustrating that there is little voice and almost no understanding for those of us who battle suicidal thoughts.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Kris,

      Fortunately, several sites have emerged recently for people who have survived a suicidal crisis. These sites might be of help to you:

      Live Through This

      This site contains photographic portraits and interviews with people from all walks of life who have survived a suicide attempt. Dese’Rae L. Stage, the photographer who created the site, is herself a suicide attempt survivor.

      What Happens Now?

      Unfortunately, this site is no longer updated, but it is still very much worth exploring. It contains inspiring accounts and interviews of people who have thought about or attempted suicide.

      Talking About Suicide: Because It’s Not Taboo

      This site offers a wealth of information, inspiration, and interviews related to surviving a suicidal crisis. Unfortunately, it also is not maintained any more, but it’s still valuable.

      I hope these websites are of some help to you!

  16. Lilajane Sampson says:

    It is coming up on my first anniversary of the last time I was suicidal, and I’ve been contemplating on how to celebrate. I decided I wanted to do something I would never had done had I killed myself, something completely brand new. Then I was thinking about if I should document it, and I was doing searches to like create a blog name. When searching ‘suicide survivor’, I was shocked to see the term used when talking about people who have lost somebody to suicide. To be frank, I do not believe that those who lost somebody to suicide have the right to claim to be a suicide survivor. I have lost somebody to suicide and I have been to the hospital on multiple occasions for suicidal ideation. While yes, losing somebody to suicide is an extremely traumatic event, I don’t think that merits the right to use the term ‘suicide survivor’. We do not refer to those who lost a loved one to homicide as ‘homicide survivors’, but as people who lost a loved one through homicide. If I’m wrong about that, please correct me. Also, my definition of attempted suicide includes suicidal ideation, because while an action might not have happened your brain is still attempting to kill you. There are feelings and emotions you get when suicidal that you never experience at any other time. I don’t want to say ‘earned’ because that portrays being suicidal as a good thing (and I would not wish suicide on anybody-ever), but I truly do not believe you can claim to be a suicide survivor unless you have attempted suicide. To me I’ve ‘earned’ that title. Not because of the suicide itself, but because I survived it, and am here and alive today. I have healed to the point where I have given speeches about my experience to complete strangers, and I’m only 17. My journey is something to be proud of, and it’s almost insulting to see people who don’t understand it at all claim the term ‘suicide survivor’. I hope this doesn’t come across as attacking, I just wanted to weigh in on my opinion. Thank you 🙂

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Lilajane,

      Thank you for your comment. You articulated very well the arguments that many people have against using the term “suicide survivor” for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. The points you raise are excellent. It’s sad that you’ve come to this knowledge in a painful way, and I’m grateful you’re still here. It’s impressive that, as a teenager, you are giving speeches about your experience with suicidal thoughts.

      One small detail: I do want to let you know that the term “homicide survivor” is used for people who have lost a loved one to murder. For example, see A Homicide Survivor’s Journey Through Grief, or Homicide Survivors, Inc.

      It’s tricky. To me, the term “homicide survivor” wouldn’t make sense if it were about a living person, because nobody who is murdered survives. By definition, “murdered” means dead. Yet I used to feel this way about “suicide survivor,” too – that nobody can die by suicide and live to tell about it, so “survivor” inherently had to attach to the living. Over time, my ear has changed, and “suicide survivor” no longer sounds odd to me when applied to people who, like you, have survived a suicidal crisis. Perhaps the difference is that a suicidal crisis requires only one person? I’m not sure.

      Anyway, thanks again for contributing.

  17. Ingrid says:

    I am a suicide loss survivor. I at times thought about suicide but never attempted it. I have been depressed and have had much anxiety. I have even had ECT but I never really wanted to die. I only wanted to feel better. I was pregnant with my third child when I received ECT and wanted nothing more than to be well enough to take care of my children. I managed to get through this period of my life and with a lot of therapy I made it. I’m seventy six years old and have been mentally well for many years even though my life has not always been that great.
    I lost my mother to suicide when I was 8 years old on July 2, 1949. I was the oldest of 4 children. My sisters were 6 and 4. My brother was 10 months old. It was devastating. She jumped from the window of a hospital. Life was never the same after that. My father might as well have died as well because he was not there for us at all. We lived with several relatives for 2 years until we moved in with my father and his mother-in-law, my grandmother. It was a house of doom and gloom. My grandmother drank and was very abusive to us children. My father never once stood up for us. He just let her say whatever she felt like saying to us. It was a nightmare.
    When I was 17, I became very depressed to the point of almost passing out from depression. I was working at a beachclub for the summer and somehow managed to pull through without any help. I don’t know how I did it but I did. I was terrified that I was sick like my mother and did not want to face the fact that I might be mentally ill. I had no one to talk to so I just kept it all to myself. I briefly saw a therapist but only went a couple of times because I didn’t want my family to find out.
    I met my first husband when I was sixteen. I thought a loving relationship was the answer to my life. I thought getting married and having children was the way to go. We married when I was twenty and he was twenty-five. Two years later, I have my first son, two years after that, my second son and two years after that my third. All this time, I had no idea anything was wrong with my husband. Before my third child was born, I was suffering from so much anxiety and depression I required seven shock treatments. The doctor did not want to prescribe medicine since i was pregnant. I got through the remainder of the pregnancy and the birth but the symptoms started again. I became so agoraphobic that I couldn’t go into a store and could barely feed my children. I lost forty pounds. Luckily, I found Recovery where I learned to deal with the symptoms and after a year I managed to stabilize and take care of my children. In the meantime, my husband was not doing very well and he eventually had a breakdown. He was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. He was there for a few days and released. He would not take medication and kept telling me I was sick and needed help. Luckily, I started working and was able to move out. My children were two, four and six. On December 1, 1969, my husband drove in front of a train and took his life. I was now a widow at twenty-eight with three children. I didn’t know what I was going to do for money. I was working and needed to pay for child care. Luckily, Railroad Retirement kicked in and saved us financially.
    I eventually remarried a widower with two daughters. We were now a family of five. While I was married to him, life stabilized somewhat. We had another child, a daughter.
    For some reason, I became discontent is this marriage and we eventually divorced. I went to a two year college and earned a degree in computer science. My career started to get better and I started to make enough money to support myself.
    I remarried a third time to a horrible human being, if you can call him that. While we were married, my sister Diane, took her life in August of 1990. She took an overdose of her prescribed medication. She had made several suicide attempts and spent a year in a mental hospital. She did very well after she came out of the hospital but unfortunately, it didn’t last. This is now the third suicide in my life.
    My oldest son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was eighteen. He had always had some problems but they became full blown his first semester of college. He came home and and that’s when when it really manifested it self. He eventually was declared mentally ill and went on disability, where he remained for the rest of his life. He had a very tumultuous life. In and out of jail, being picked up by the police regularly, etc. He eventually spent seven months in a mental hospital and stabilized for quite a while after that. He finally started attending a mental health clinic on a regular basis and did very, very well. He went several times a week and took his medication religiously. He learned how to be appropriate in public. He had a beautiful apartment which he decorated himself. It was a work of art. He ultimately graduated to a program where many transition from the day program he was in to the working world. He loved the program and went every day. He was their poster child for how the program worked and went all over the state advocating for them. He was doing so well I would invite him to parties with my friends. There was a time when I couldn’t do that so he really excelled for a long time.
    Suddenly, I receive a call from him from crisis unit. Mom, “I feel homicidal and suicidal”. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach. I rushed over to the emergency room and he was admitted to the hospital where he remained for ten days. He didn’t stay quite so bad while he was there but he didn’t recover to his former state of wellness. The day he was released I flew to Costa Rica for a trip I had planned months earlier. I was worried about him while I was there and called several times to check on him. He didn’t sound great. I couldn’t wait to get home to make sure he was all right. I called him the day I left and spoke to him. He sounded down. I arrived home late Saturday night. The next day, Sunday, March 26, 2017, I called him in the morning to tell him I was having him over for his birthday. He didn’t answer the phone. I wasn’t too concerned since he would run errands and come right back. I called several more times and started to worry. I drove over to his apartment and knocked on the door. No answer. I tried the key but the door was chained from the inside. Then, I really worried. I called 911 and the police came and broke down the door. They came out and told me he had passed and it looked like he took all of his medication. I was devastated and couldn’t stop crying. This is now the fourth person in my life to die by their own hand. It was especially tragic with my son since he was doing so well for so long. I was very proud of him and called him a miracle.
    Why. Why. Why is this happening?
    Each suicide was devastating. My mother left four children and a grieved father who never really recovered. My husband left three children as well as many other loved ones. My sister left five grown children and several grandchildren all who missed her terribly. My son left a huge hole in our family.
    Suicide is a scourge and needs to be understood better. I don’t know what to say except that they don’t realize the devastation they leave behind. I pray someday a cause is found.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Ingrid,

      I am very sorry for your losses, as well as your own experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. To lose just one person by suicide is painful; the loss of four family members across your life is enormous.

      I often wonder why some people suffer so much loss and hardship while others experience relatively little. This is one of life’s mysteries. You are truly a survivor.

      I thank you for sharing your story here, and I wonder if you’ve shared it before. If you want to talk with somebody about what you’re going through, please check out the Resources page on this site. In particular, there are a couple listings for support groups for people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

      Thanks again for sharing.

  18. Lilith Grace says:

    Ms. Freedenthal, I’m two years late, but what you wrote back in 2014 is still as relevant as ever — as online searches for the term “suicide survivor” indicate. (e.g. One of the most frequent comments that I hear from folks who call the hotline at which I volunteer seeking support as they recover from an attempt or suicidal depression is that they first searched Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, or even Amazon for support resources for fellow travelers and came up empty — yet were deluged with resources for the loved ones of successful suicides. Surely, in today’s information age, we can do better than this! Adding precision to terminology is a critical step in the right direction.)

    Language matters. Your coinage and championing of “suicide loss survivor” as a distinct category from “suicide survivor” — and your ongoing efforts to persuade other writers, practitioners, and advocates to reserve the latter term for those who’ve either attempted suicide themselves or lived through their own severe suicidal depression — go a long way toward relieving stigma and alienation while helping to build community. Suicide loss survivors deserve study and compassion, and it is right that there is no shortage of support groups and written material aimed at them. yet it is also true that the same plenitude of ink and attention has, sadly, not been extended to folks who’ve survived either suicide attempts or the serious contemplation of same. Ensuring that folks in this latter group of ‘survivors’ at least have a name to themselves is a step in the right direction. Indeed, it might even save lives by making it easier for such ‘survivors’ to connect with the resources that they need online and elsewhere and thus stave off relapse/further attempts.

    Thanks so much for doing what you do! Best wishes to you and yours for the ongoing holiday season.

    • Anonymous says:

      I appreciate your reply, as well as the article. I searched the term “suicide survivor” this morning in an attempt to connect to someone who could help me navigate a state that seems to virtually assure another, one would hope more competent, attempt. It seemed reasonable. Hurricane survivors are the ones who survive the storm, not the ones watching on tv. All I found was an endless supply of agreement that I am nothing. I don’t matter, may as well not exist anyway because I already don’t in the eyes of pretty much everyone. But hey, all those people bitching and rolling their eyes at my pleas for help? At least they will get the support they need for having had to endure me. Perhaps others will keep pushing to make the inconvenient exist enough that others will be served.

  19. Eve's legacy says:

    I made a very serious suicide attempt 12.26.08 n miraculously survived and then my beloved eldest son, specialist Adam Patrick Curren, killed himself 3.7.14. He tried 2 call me 3x’s minutes b4, but i was in a freak 5 day coma. My ex relayed that 2 me over the phone when i woke up. I knew something was off base a few weeks earlier and begged him to come home 4 a week. I had said to him god doesn’t make mistakes when i had asked him if he had any prejudices against gays n he said no. I said “good, god doesn’t make mistakes.” he said ‘yes mom, god does’. My alarms went off! His thinking was off base. He said he was too busy with (gods work) as the owner of a remodeling (carpenter) co. N he n his girlfriend were going on vacation. Our last words were that we loved each other.

    Anyways to the point, i have had enuf of the senseless loss of life due to suicide n i am doing something about it. Or dying trying! Pls help me get the word out 2 loved ones to see eve’s legacy at GoFundMe. My goal is 2 open up 24/7 memorial outreach centers. I want 2 put an end to suicide once n 4 all. Although my story doesn’t indicate it, i want 2 honor all of the lives lost 2 suicide (think along the lines of the aids quilts).

    Pls pls pls help me spread the word as far n wide as possible. I have 2 limited knowledge with the web.

    Thank you n god bless!

    Evelyn m. Curren

  20. the bitter half says:

    When I first came across the term suicide survivors and the group the phrase is attributed to, I too felt uncertain about the usage of the term and the people it identifies with. However, after reading and thinking and diving into the topic, the issue that is suicide, I felt like it fit perfectly. Someone once told me that they survived suicide, and I know when they spoke the words it was meant to connect and reach out, but instead I took extreme offense of the context as if it was implied they were strong enough to live through it and that my sister just didn’t have enough character or resilience- like that suicide can be beat…There is already a huge stigma that is associated with the term suicide and the people it associated with and the usage of “suicide survivors” only adds to that as if suicide can be overcome and that it is an issue of character or perseverance…No. Suicide is finite. It is a period that marks the end of a sentence to signal nothing comes after. You don’t survive death, you don’t overcome death, instead you have a near death experience. You attempted suicide, you thought about it, but you don’t beat it. Instead you beat depression you beat whatever underlining mental illness or traumatic experience that leads you to that situation. People that have been lost to suicide can’t post their thoughts and write how they feel because they are no longer of this world. I applaud all those that have attempted or thought of suicide and fought through depression to tell your stories because it is hard and underappreciated, but that does not make you a survivor of suicide contrary to whatever fancy term you wish to be associated with to validate the merits of your experience. To try and disagree, feels like your part of the problem that thinks light on depression or mental illness which almost always goes hand to hand with suicide, but depression isn’t as powerful or sexy or thought provoking or as real as suicide. Suicide isn’t a cause or symptom, it is the end. Although, I know you don’t mean to make it seem like you are stronger or more resilient, when you say you are a suicide survivor then those that have passed, but the truth is there will always be an underlining message associated that says this or something similar when you imply that you survived suicide. No one beats death and no one survives suicide.

  21. Gfw says:

    Suicide attempter

  22. David N says:

    it is nice to look at the politically correct/ professional psychologist view.. but.. I have not died from attempts.. honestly we who make it really don’t care about what is traditional.. and
    btw.. EVERY professional I have dealt with over 40years of being a bipolar patient.. have gone with the . IF YOU LIVE AFTER AN ATTEMPT then u survived >>>>>> DUH.. SUICIDE SURVIVOR..

    AS has been my experience,, if you don’t have the illness/es , your degrees on the wall never come close to the understanding of the ones who are in it! … the depth of despair and hopelessness in an attempt is beyond your comprehension .. and the feelings of both failure and gratitude after a failed attempt are unimaginable..
    I am also a life skills coach… interesting profession.. we do are best to listen and learn.. pride n ego not an issue and no chest beating..
    sorry if I am so harsh.. been dealing with ignorance about the stigma . plight and PTSD after attempts too long

    also.. the courage and resource to people in ideation from survivors who share and proudly have a semi’colon.. well , are you going to now correct them and put a patent on ur version of ‘suicide survivor ?

  23. angelina says:

    I have no clue what to call my self, my family or my friends. I don’t think they do either.

    I have attempted suicide (10 years ago) but my family does not know, and i did not need medical help. I have been battling Borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder openly (in degrees of course) for 13 years. I have been in the hospital psychiatric ward multiple times because I have been so past caring that family feared for me, or my self harm has been enough that my family didn’t trust me alone, or I have asked to be admitted because I could not keep myself safe. My actions have had immeasurable impact on my family. They have been horrified, they have been hurt, angry, disappointed, caring, loving, unable to understand how or why. I hate what i have done to them.

    My situation is still the same today. I am not a survivor, I am still trying to get out of the war that is raging constantly in my head. My family is not surviving this, every time i end up in hospital they pull away a little more. I in no way blame them. I am amazed they have stayed for so long. But i think to call us survivors is presumptive that any of us will make it out of this. We are all still embroiled in a fight that we may not win.

    I hope for my family that they get out of this as intact as they can.

    For me, I just want to not have every single day be a war against my own self, against my desire to cut, starve, isolate, numb, or kill myself.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      I hope this reaches you you will have to battle this war everyday but there is hope I have battled for 20 years and still going I want you to know you are not alone

  24. Anonymous says:

    I call myself abstaining suicider, which probably doesn’t translate to English very well. A person, who is performing abstinence from suicide. Suicidal thoughts are never too far from my mind when life gets into a tight spot, but I’ve become excellent in dealing with them (excellent = living on for 25+ years). Being a survivor would mean that something is done, dealt with, over. It’s not. It resurfaces. Therefore, a final-like word cannot capture the reality of my life where keeping on surviving is a process. A process of abstinence from suicide.

  25. anonymous says:

    after my attempt i was traumatized for awhile. i looked online for other people who survived specifically using the words “suicide survivors”. i was disappointed to find that it did not apply to me… im happy to read this entry. i feel validated.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      I am a true suicide survivor I should be dead but I’m not and my purpose on earth is to help people dealing with suicide ,self harm, or bullying leading up to suicide it’s a daily struggle but I promise you this you are not alone I fight everyday that war to stay alive or let it win hope this helps you

  26. Hi, Stacey! I’m coming to this post long after it has been written. Just adding my two cents that I appreciate you taking the time to really detail your thoughts around the changing language related to suicide. It helps me gather and reorganize my own thinking around these experiences in a way that honors everyone involved.

    And, thank you for staying so committed to educating, supporting, and inspiring us by staying engaged with us as we drop in. I appreciate you sharing your resources, your thoughts, and your encouragement 24 hours / day, 7 days / week.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello Tamara,

      Thank you for your kind words of support. I appreciate them, and you!

      The language around suicide is ever changing, and often questionable. Twice this week I’ve come across articles that refer to a person as “the suicide.” If enough people similarly dehumanizing people who die by suicide, I might need to write a blog post about it. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again!

  27. Stacey Duncan says:

    I Totally agree w/ the term sucide loss survivor. I lost my only son almost 9 years ago. Anytime I heard the term suicide survivor I automatically thought of someone who survived an attempt. We need to bring this illness out of the dark ages. I don’t like the term committed suicide either. It makes it sound as if my son committed a crime. He did not!

    • aleia says:

      I agree Stacey Duncan, Your son did not commit a crime. Its language like this that has been keeping this issue in the dark, with such stigma surrounding it. If, we could all open up to the reasons why this happens, maybe instead of numbers going up, as indeed they are, they would, as it would seem in this day and age, to go down.
      nothing much has changed in the 30 plus years, of my attempt, except there seems to be more professionals talking about something, they truly don’t understand. As for people who need to label themselves as the poster who is a self proclaimed ” non labeled person who is related to suicide attempters “. maybe its exactly the way you stated that, that precludes you from having a label.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      Stacey my heart goes out to you I’m sorry for your loss suicide almost ended my life but the lord has other plans for me may I ask you something ? Would you be willing to tell your story ?

  28. Juliet Carr says:

    Thank you for this well researched thoughtful post. I also struggle with the same questions being a non labeled person thus far as I am a person who is related to suicide attempters. http://Www.AttemptedSuicideHelp.com

  29. Jim says:

    Excellent point on the use of common terminology, as a person that has been impacted by the death of my son from “suicide.” I have never thought of myself as a suicide survivor and never liked the term applied to me. Personal choice only. Those who struggle with depressive episodes or ideations of terminating life are the true survivors, I merely grieve the early, untimely death of my son. Jim Younger RN

  30. anon says:

    Without wishing to muddy the waters further – the friends and family of people who have survived a suicide attempt seem to be missing from this discussion. A suicide attempt has an enormous effect on relationships, often changing them forever. Your loved one may blame you for your actions (justifiably or not) for either contributing to the suicide attempt, or from preventing it, or even both. The initial relief at still having your loved one with you may be followed by grief, anger, guilt and fear that it will happen again. The suffering may be less when compared with ‘suicide attempt survivors’ or ‘suicide loss survivors’ but it is nevertheless very real, and it can take a lot of courage to go forward.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anon,” you make excellent points. I think watching someone go through such intense pain that they attempt suicide, along with all the behaviors that the pain can inspire, has to be nerve wracking for friends and family. As you said, a loved one’s suicidal thoughts or suicide attempt can inspire many stressful emotions, as can the person’s reactions to you and what you did or did not do.

      I wonder if you have checked Speaking of Suicide’s Resources page for friends and family. It’s a little spare right now; I intend to expand it soon. But in the meantime, there is a booklet put out by the VA for family after a family member’s suicide attempt. The material is applicable to veterans and non-veterans alike. Perhaps it would be helpful to you?

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and for the reminder that everyone matters when it comes to the effects of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal thoughts.

  31. Tanya says:

    I am the face of suicide. I am the hurt, the “what’s left,” the broken, shattered, angry, always questioning, guilt ridden, had the wool pulled over my eyes, sad, happy, always looking over my shoulder to make sure siblings are okay, relieved, disgusted, supportive, loving, forever changed, daughter and sister and now wife and mother; that my father left behind. To pick up the pieces of my shattered dreams and hopes and wishes. And to forever live with the truth that he was not truly a proud man. He was a coward. And he was ill, he had to be to do what he did, right? That is what everyone tells me. So what do you call me? Yes I am surviving. Mad as Hell. Living the new life he created for me. That I didn’t want or deserve. Because he chose not to live the life he had. But I am stronger and more loving and patient and kind and always watching and listening – truly listening. And sharing. Because it matters. Everyone matters. And I won’t stop. Loving him, hating him, being sad for him, without him, for him, in spite of him and because of him.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Tanya, your words are beautiful, painful, inspiring, sad, and more – all at once. Thank you for your powerful testament to the face of suicide and its aftermath. I personally don’t agree that having an illness means he was cowardly or not proud, but I understand that you and many other suicide loss survivors experience a wide range of emotions and reactions. The eloquence of your writing and the rawness of your feelings really convey your inner experience. Thank you!

      [Edited on April 22, 2017 – SF]

    • Jim says:

      All true, and this is my oncern for my granddaughter. How do I help her understand the cause and effect had nothing to do with her. Her father wasnt weak, a coward or stupid, but wasn’t able to cope and in a moment of weakness made a poor choice that could not be undone.

    • Diane Maher says:

      Tanya, your words touch my heart, my soul, my very being. I have tried to put into words how I have felt over the past 15 years. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s funeral. She took her life, with a gun, and I have never been the same person ever again. The words you put together express everything I feel from time to time. I can not believe it is 15 years later, and I still am having feelings, emotions, and unrest with my mother’s suicide. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, words and feelings.

    • Daughter says:

      Over a year later, but thank you Tanya for putting into words so many things I cannot. I lost my dad 6 months ago, and it feels like I survive every day without him; not live, but survive without him. I don’t know if I ever get to truly live again, or in time. I feel guilty for when I resent him, and sad when I miss him. No feeling is ever the one that feels right.

      I don’t know what I get to call myself. I don’t know if the word really matters to change how I feel. I do want to to feel acknowledged and validated that my pain is real. I don’t want to claim a term that does not belong to me either.

      For those who have argued that survivor is past tense, I would disagree. We survive daily. It means we simply carry on despite. It means whether loss, attempt or crisis we are all still here trying to figure out how to get through the day.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      Tanya I am sorry for your loss but sometimes suicide gets the best of us it makes us think our family and friends would be better without us or we feel like a total failure to our kids and partner that it pushes us past the safe way to return and sadly it takes our lives for good I hope this helps you and makes your life a little easier

    • Melanie says:

      Tanya, why on earth are you angry with him? Your dad did what he felt he had to do. He was never ever a coward nor selfish.
      Think about it, if you are ill with the flu for example, and all you can think about is going to bed to get rid of the aches, pains and feeling like crap, you would do it as soon as you could to stop feeling that way. Or an even better example, a break up. Your poor dad had feelings a million times worse and you are blaming him. He felt it was best for everyone. I’m sure you have done many selfish things especially in your younger years that at the time you felt was the best thing to do that your family didn’t approve of.
      Make him proud and stop being ashamed. I really hope you don’t suffer in the future like he did, but if you do then you would realise that you are being the stigma to mental illness.
      And before you kick off, both my mother and brother hanged themselves and my grief is in sorrow for how much pain they suffered in this world but happy knowing they are now in peace. I am fighting for the stigma to end. You make me sad and angry.

  32. joyofdogs says:

    Language is important and fluid. I think we need to try to find the most compassionate way to communicate. I personally have stopped using ‘committed suicide’ even though alternative language still seems awkward at times, I think to eliminate the stigma we need to get away from the history of that terminololgy. And when people use it I understand that they may not know or agree with me and that’s okay. I am a suicide awareness advocate, I lost my son, Terry, to suicide on August 21, 2010 and I join many others to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma of mental illness and suicide.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello “joyofdogs” – love that name! – I agree with you. The word “committed” has such negative connotations. I teach social work, and recently I challenged my students to come up with a neutral use of “committed” when it is followed directly by a noun (not a proposition). “Committed to marriage” or “committed to another person” doesn’t work, because of the “to.”

      They could not come up with anything. The other constructions for “committed” are highly negative and stigmatized – committed adultery, committed murder, committed a crime, etc.

      Suicide is not something that someone “commits.” It is something that happens to them because mental illness, stress, trauma or other overwhelming circumstances or emotions overtake them. I write more about this here: Language about Suicide (Part 1): The Power of Words.

      I am so sorry about the loss of your son Terry. Thank you for advocating for the prevention of suicide, and for sharing your insights here.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic post. I think that labeling a grieving family member or friend as a “suicide survivor” is not accurate at all. I much prefer the term “suicide loss survivor.” My grandmother died from cancer, but I don’t call myself a cancer survivor. The words we use do make a difference because they shape our beliefs. One of my dearest friends is a suicide loss survivor and it is very important to define it that way because surviving loss from a loved one’s suicide can be very, very difficult. It is devastating. On the other hand, I am a suicide survivor. I truly did survive a suicidal attempt. I also think that by not making this distinction between the person who is/was suicidal and surviving friends and family is to literally erase the experiences of those who do survive and have so much to teach us all. There is so much misinformation out there about suicide and mental illness that it serves no one to ignore the amazing group of individuals who survive suicide. Just like with cancer survivors, we should all look at their experience and ask, “What can we learn from this?”

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” thanks for sharing. I think your words will mean a great deal to many people who feel the same way, especially survivors of a suicidal crisis – people I want to call “suicide survivors” but still hesitate to do so, for the reasons above. But…you make an excellent point about how we don’t call the people “cancer survivors” if they lose a loved one to cancer. That’s one more reason for me to not use the phrase “suicide survivor” on this site.

      You are not alone in thinking that we need to be careful not to “erase the experiences of those who do survive and have so much to teach us.” The major suicide prevention organizations in the U.S., the American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, have both incorporated the voices of attempt survivors recently. May that continue!

      Thanks for sharing, and I’m grateful you survived!

  34. nikky44 says:

    I love the explanation. In fact, it’s something I have thought about a lot lately. I felt invisible, ignored, not understood, and that hurts. I have had suicidal thoughts/plans for years. I survived war, sexual abuse, 18 years of conjugal violence. I fought the thoughts really hard. I run away lately, abandoned everything, family, job, home, my country and all my life. I did it to protect myself and my children. When I ask for help feeling suicidal, no one can understand. They think I’m looking for attention because a suicidal person doesn’t try this hard to improve her life. During a severe crisis, I called a crisis center to get help. I was “interviewed” about my thoughts. I said I had the pills in hand, the answer was: If you didn’t take them yet, it means you won’t do it.
    Suicide is not a game, it’s not a joke, it’s not to get attention. It is real, and fighting it is so hard, but doing it without help and support is impossible.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Nikky, how devastating to not be taken seriously by a crisis center. It sounds like many people have not seen you and your pain. I’m sorry for all you have gone through. You are absolutely right people needing to take suicide seriously. I’ve written a little about that here in my post Is a Suicide Attempt a Cry for Help?

      Please don’t give up. There is good help out there. Have you seen Speaking of Suicide’s Resources page for people who are thinking of suicide? You can find it at https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

      Thanks for sharing! As another person wrote in a comment here, we have a lot to learn from you and others who have lived through the suicidal experience or are living through it, still.

  35. Stacey, I think you’re on the right track, for all of the reasons you’ve stated. We know that language matters, and that’s one strong reason that many of us have tried for years to have “committed suicide” removed from the common language around those who died of suicide, stemming, as it does, from the times when suicide was universally deemed a crime. (Which is still is in some areas of the world.) I have had trouble with “suicide survivor” for those who are bereaved because it changes the more universal understanding of the term (cancer survivor, Holocaust survivor, etc.); because it doesn’t permit useful terminology for someone who attempts suicide but survives (suicide attempt survivor works better, I think); and because I have difficulty thinking of myself as a “suicide survivor” of my friend Vince’s suicide death. It feels like that term is more reserved for folk closer, like family. I am, however, bereaved by Vince’s death by hanging, and will be for my lifetime.

  36. pamjarrett says:

    Try a third category–people who have done more than just “think” about suicide and who have attempted it in families where multiple other people have succeeded in committing suicide. Instead of us all getting caught up in labels or being angry because our needs aren’t being met or recognized, just realize that EVERYONE is hurting, and act with compassion. Start with listening and not getting defensive.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Pam, you’re right – two categories is sort of an artificial division. Certainly people who survive a suicidal crisis might also have lost a loved one to suicide, and vice versa. So there is overlap in the categories of suicide attempt survivor and suicide loss survivor. On top of that, as you note, there are families with multiple suicide losses, and I’m sure there are more categories out there, too.

      What an important truth: “EVERYONE is hurting, and act with compassion.” The world would be a much better place if more people embraced this truth.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

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