Help for those affected by Suicide

Irish Times: Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Help for those affected by suicide
Psychotherapy can help those who have been affected by suicide
SUICIDE IS back in the news again with the release of the Monageer report and reports on the inquest of Rosemary Toole Gilhooley last week.
The Monageer report documented the suicide of Adrian Dunne and the deaths of his wife Ciara and their young daughters Leanne and Shania at their Co Wexford home in 2007.
Meanwhile, Ms Toole Gilhooley died in Dublin 2002 in what was believed to be an assisted suicide. Rev George Exoo and his partner, Thomas McGurrin, were investigated for assisting her suicide but efforts to have them extradited from the US in 2007 failed.
The increasing rates of suicides and attempted suicides in Ireland in recent years and their impact has led to a range of responses at social, political and professionals levels.
While some of these responses are aimed at suicide prevention in the general population, many, such as psychotherapy, are aimed specifically at helping the suicidal person, the family and those bereaved by suicide to address the issue in a constructive way.
The impact of suicide and attempted suicide cannot be underestimated. Far from being an uncommon experience, many people think about suicide at some time in their lives and some consider suicide as a real option in times of severe distress.
About 500 Irish people die by suicide each year while about 11,000 AE admissions are the result of suicide attempts.
Suicide and attempted suicide also have a wider impact, affecting family, friends and community.
It is estimated that in the region of six other people close to the deceased are affected by the death of a person by suicide.
This reality is overshadowed by the social and moral stigma that still surrounds suicide. The taboo silences people, making it difficult for society and the suicidal person to acknowledge and address their experiences. This increases the sense of isolation, fear and anxiety experienced by the suicidal person and other concerned people.
The psychological feelings of those who are suicidal include acute distress, fear, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness and confusion. Socially the person can struggle to manage their daily and family lives and to continue with study or work, leading to financial and other worries.
As a result, people often feel desperate, alone and misunderstood. Those who are aware of or suspect that someone is suicidal often have similar experiences. People in these situations frequently do not know where or how to avail of help for themselves or their loved ones.
Indeed, due to the stigma associated with suicide, people often fear the type of response they might get if they seek help. The suicidal person may worry about being viewed as insane or inadequate while the family may be concerned about being blamed.
It is important that people know that help is available and that recovery from a suicidal crisis is possible. Psychotherapy can assist the suicidal person to identify the sources of their distress, the resources and supports they need, and how best to approach their life situation in order to regain a sense of control over their own life and future.
Psychotherapy can also help concerned family and friends identify how best to support the person in crisis. Overcoming a suicidal crisis may take time and psychotherapy can help all those involved to feel understood and to make sense of their situation.
In circumstances where somebody has died by suicide, those left behind can frequently feel alone in their grief. While grief following suicide is similar in many ways to other bereavements, it is characterised by a strong sense of shame, blame, confusion and stigma.
Sometimes it can be more extended and ambiguous and be accompanied by extreme and unexpected mood changes. While many of those bereaved by suicide do not feel that they deserve help or do not realise that help is available to them, psychotherapy can assist with the grieving process and with getting life back on track again.
If you are concerned about your own suicidal thoughts or feelings, about a loved one, or you are struggling to overcome the loss of someone close, do not be afraid to talk. It will not do any harm and will probably help to alleviate your distress. Trained psychotherapists are available within the public and private sectors.
The Irish Council for Psychotherapists is the professional body representing psychotherapists and it maintains a register of more than 1,000 psychotherapists who have undergone in-depth training and are committed to the highest professional standards.
Accreditation as a psychotherapist generally requires at least seven years of training comprising a primary degree, a foundation year and three years’ part-time training in one of the psychotherapeutic disciplines.
You can contact the Irish Council for Psychotherapy at 73 Quinn’s Road, Shankill, Co Dublin or visit the ICP website at where you will find the register and contact details of trained and experienced psychotherapists all over the State.
Evelyn Gordon is a registered psychotherapist, a member of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.
She is currently undertaking a PhD in suicidology at Dublin City University and is part of the Research Team on a HRB-funded Suicide Project at the School of Nursing, DCU.
Anyone who is emotionally distressed by suicide can contact the Samaritans on 1850-609090 to talk in confidence
“Those left behind can frequently feel alone in their grief. While grief following suicide is similar in many ways to other bereavements, it is characterised by a strong sense of shame, blame, confusion and stigma.