Family, Friends of Suicide Victims at Higher Risk

Social stigma can isolate those who are grieving, researcher explains

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Family and friends of people who commit suicide are at high risk for attempted suicide themselves, a new British study finds.

"Our results highlight the profound impact that suicide might have on friends and family members," study author Alexandra Pitman, from the division of psychiatry at University College London, said in a university news release.

The study included more than 3,400 university staff and students, aged 18 to 40, who experienced the sudden death of a relative or friend from natural causes or suicide.

Those whose relative or friend died of suicide were 65 percent more likely to attempt suicide than if the person died from natural causes. The absolute risk of attempted suicide was one in 10 if the relative or friend died of suicide.

Those whose relative or friend died of suicide were also 80 percent more likely to leave school or work. Overall, 8 percent of those bereaved by a suicide dropped out of school or left their job, according to the University College London researchers.

The findings were published Jan. 26 in the journal BMJ Open.

People who lost a relative or friend to suicide tended to perceive more social stigma around the death, and reducing this stigma may help reduce the impact on survivors' lives, the researchers said.

Suicide is often considered a taboo topic, but "avoiding the subject can make a bereaved person feel very isolated and stigmatized, and sometimes even blamed for the death. People bereaved by suicide should not be made to feel in any way responsible, and should be treated with the same compassion as people bereaved by any other cause," Pitman said.

"If you have been bereaved by suicide, you should know that you are not alone and support is available," she added.