Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Tragic Loss By Suicide and the Question “Why?”

shutterstock_148518026For every suicide there is an estimated six or more “suicide survivors,” people who are left behind trying to cope with this traumatic loss. They include spouses, parents, siblings, friends and relatives.

When the person lost is Robin Williams, a famous comedian and actor whose creativity and art brought laughs to millions, it illuminates the pain, confusion, shock, and even guilt suffered by others who have lost a loved one to suicide.

The Question WHY?

One of the haunting thoughts that survivors carry in the aftermath of suicide is “ WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?”

As Bev Feigelman, one of the authors of Devastating Losses, and the mother of a young filmmaker who died by suicide describes, “ The question mark stays in the forefront of your mind haunting you and only with time starts to slowly move toward the back.”

Depression, often unrecognized and untreated is considered the major cause of suicide. What complicates this finding is that those suffering often struggle with the fear that they will not find the proper treatment.

In her important book, Depression and Your Child, one of the contributions of author Deborah Serani, is a listing of over 300 names of famous people from athletes, actors to writers who have suffered with depression.

Suicide as “ Psychache”

In work with suicide survivors – be they family members, siblings or cops, the consideration of suicide as “ psychache” has been considered helpful.

Essentially it comes from the work of suicide expert, Edwin Shneidman who defined suicide as a misguided solution to unbearable psychic pain.

In such pain, thinking becomes constricted, there is tunnel vision and the only compelling need is to end the pain. When suicidal, the thought of ending the pain is not always equated with ending life.

Intolerable, Interminable and Inescapable.

Dan Bilsker and Peter Forster (2003) who also define suicidal thinking in terms of a crisis of pain–describe it in terms of “ The Three I’s” – The person suffering perceives the pain as Intolerable, Interminable and Inescapable.

When intervention is possible, it aims at relieving despair by demonstrating that emotional pain can be addressed with help, that the moments of pain will not persist and that with support their are alternatives to those aspects of life that can feel inescapable.

Suicide is tragic and complicated loss that takes the lives of many gifted and giving people.

Every year in the U. S., suicide claims the life of 34,000 people and the number seems to be rising. It is the second leading cause of death in college students, the third leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults and the US military suicide rate is at an all time high.

There is Help for Those Suffering From Depression and Those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

There is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

There is on-line information from Groups like The American Association of Suicidology , the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Prevention in the Military, Life-lines School Programs to offer crucial support and guidance.

There are means to find competent mental help professionals from organizations like the American Psychological Association.or the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

The Final Line is Not The Whole Story

As with anyone who is known, loved and remembered, the final line is important to consider but is never the whole story. To focus only upon it,  is to lose all that a person lived and contributed to those they touched. In the case of Robin Williams, we must remember all the joy he brought to the lives he filled with laughter.


Additional Reading: Shneidman, E. (1993) Suicide as Psychache: A clinical Approach to Self-Destrictive Behavior. New Jersey: Jason Aronson

Bilsker, D. & Forster, P. (2003) ” Problem-Solving Intervention for Suicidal Crises in the Psychiatric Emergency Service.” The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, Vol.24, No.3,134-136.

Sorrow image available from Shutterstock.