The Aftermath of Suicide – A Family Perspective

Authors: Dr. Emma Micallef-Konewko, Dr Kristina Bettenzana

Background: It is well established that the death of a family member is a devastating loss (Fine, 1997; Sudak, Maxim, & Carpenter, 2008). Families bereaved by suicide (also referred to as suicide survivors) face a different kind of grief process, one that is often complicated by extreme levels of psychological distress (Cvinar, 2005). Indeed, Jordan (2008) highlighted that suicide survivors are more likely to experience mood disorders, trauma symptoms and intense feelings of guilt and shame.  Beyond this, these individuals often experience stigma that may ultimately lead to social isolation (Provini, Everett, & Pfeffer, 2000). Studies have increasingly shown that suicide often parallels the values of a society (Stuart, 2009). This is especially the case in certain cultures where the dominant discourse about suicide is driven by strong religious or moral principles. It is essential that these unique perspectives are taken into consideration when examining the bereavement process of suicide survivors.

Method: By adopting the scholar-practitioner model of clinical psychology, this presentation bridges the gap between research and clinical practice. This presentation examines the literature on the impact of suicide on the family and embeds it within the narrative of a professional who is a suicide survivor. In doing this, the authors highlight the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Maltese society in relation to the aftermath of a suicide. Recommendations are made to guide professionals in delivering compassionate-focused support to these invisible families.