Lynne Russell

For those who have experienced it, the pain of losing a loved one to suicide is indescribable.

What can make the situation even more difficult for those grieving are unhelpful comments and reactions from others, including friends, whānau, and the wider community.

Dr Lynne Russell, a senior research fellow in Māori health at Victoria University of Wellington, lost her husband of 21 years to suicide over six years ago and has also experienced the loss of a number of others to suicide, including cousins, nephews, an aunty and friends.

A different kind of grief

She says the stigma attached to suicide makes it too hard for some people to even say the word.

"I have been to tangi in my own whānau of those who have taken their own lives where not once was there mention of the fact that this is what happened.

Those affected by suicide may not feel able to talk about it for a variety of reasons. Suicide is fundamentally seen by many to be a selfish act, but for those bereaved by suicide, viewing their loved ones as selfish may be impossible and only creates more pain.

“To blame the person that's taken their life is both unfair and unhelpful,” Lynne says. “So, rather than have to deal with the judgement of others, it's sometimes easier just to say nothing - both if you are suicidal, and if you have been bereaved by suicide."

Whakamā can be an issue

The mother-of-four and grandmother of three says that in Māori communities, whakamā (shame, embarrassment) can be an issue for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as the whānau of people who die by suicide.

She has on occasions avoided telling people about how her husband died, and has seen her children do the same.

"I think maybe the wider whānau see my speaking out about the effects of suicide - telling our stories – as just a search for sympathy, as bringing unwanted attention to us, or to their whanaunga. But by reinforcing that silence, or labelling it as sympathy-seeking even, we really only add to the stigma.”

One way the burden carried can be addressed is by finding the right ways to talk about it and share the stories of those affected. "We need to find ways of ending that pain - for all of us."

 

Read about Suicide bereavement