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Emotional Responses to Teenage Suicide
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In the last section, we discussed six reasons why a teenager may attempt or commit suicide. We also discussed the Healing Self Statements technique.
In this section, we will discuss emotional reactions clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide. At the end of the section, we will discuss the "Identifying Supportive Others" technique for helping clients coping with a loved one’s suicide strengthen their support networks.
♦ 5 Emotional Reactions
-- 1. "First Wave"
A first emotional reaction clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide is the "first wave." Of course, not all clients exhibit emotional reactions in the same pattern, but I have found that for many clients, the progression is similar. For many clients, shock and helplessness are the initial responses to the suddenness of the trauma. This is very often followed by a strong feeling of rejection. Paula, 43, stated, "My son Tim left me behind! The worst thing is, he chose to leave me!"
-- 2. Anger
A second emotional reaction clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide is anger. Paula described the anger she had experienced in the weeks following Tim’s death, stating "I’d be driving in to work and these waves of anger would come crashing over me. I’d find myself screaming out loud in the car. I’d be yelling, ‘how dare he do this to me! You give a child life, you give him everything and he just destroys it!’ I’d give in and have to pull over, feeling like the anger would last forever!"
-- 3. Guilt
In addition to the first wave and anger, a third emotional reaction clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide is guilt. As you are well aware, guilt may be the most common emotional reaction clients have regarding a teenager’s suicide. In the weeks following Tim’s death, Paula felt that there were endless reasons to feel responsible for her son’s death. Paula stated, "Why didn’t I see the warning signs? Did I not do enough? If only I had been a better mother!"
-- 4. Shame
A fourth emotional reaction clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide is shame. Despite the fact that there has been movement away from the stigmatization of suicide, Paula stated, "I don’t want to see any of my friends, because I know they’ll all be looking at me and thinking what a terrible mother I am."
-- 5. Anxiety
A fifth emotional reaction clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide is anxiety. Paula began to feel fear about leaving the house. Paula stated, "It’s like all of a sudden suicide is an option for our family. If I leave the house, I’m sure the entire time that I’ll come home and find my husband or my daughter has committed suicide too!"
♦ Supportive Others Technique
Clearly, a client may turn these intense feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety in on him or herself, resulting in depression. Paula’s depression was compounded by her self-initiated withdrawal from her social support network. To help Paula reach out to supportive others in her life, I asked her to try the three step Supportive Others technique.
-- Step One - First, I asked Paula to list five relationships that were important to her. Once Paula had written her list, I asked her to write each name on a separate sheet of paper. On each sheet, I asked Paula to write three adjectives that described each person. Next, I asked Paula to recall memories that illustrated each adjective.
-- Step Two - Once Paula had completed her lists of supportive others, adjectives, and memories, I asked Paula to take several minutes to write answers to the following questions for each supportive other.
1. Which aspects of this relationship are positive for you? Which are not?
2. What is it about this person that causes you to trust him or her? Are there ways in which he or she is trustworthy, and ways he or she is not?
3. Which of your needs are met in this relationship? What needs do you meet for him or her?
4. How do you think the trauma of Tim’s suicide impacted your relationship with him or her? How do feelings of shame, anger, guilt, or anxiety influence how you interact with her or him?
5. How would you like your relationship with this person to change? Is it possible to discuss your concerns with him or her?
-- Step Three - After Paula had answered the questions, I asked her to make a list of three people she could call in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings if she became overwhelmed with her negative feelings. On the same sheet of paper, I asked her to write my office number, and the number of an after-hours crisis line.
I stated to Paula, "The phone calls you make to your supportive others do not need to be long or involved. A simple statement of what you are feeling may be enough. Sharing that fact with another person helps ground you in the present, and will help you focus better on your tasks at hand. I also suggest you keep a journal handy. Sometimes, writing down the simple statement about what you are feeling can also help you ground yourself."
Think of your Paula. Would the supportive others technique help him or her reach out to relationships from which he or she may have withdrawn?
In this section, we have discussed emotional reactions clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide. We also discussed the "Identifying Supportive Others" technique for helping clients coping with a loved one’s suicide strengthen their support networks.
In the next section, we will discuss five concepts regarding denial following a teenager’s suicide. These five concepts are, the initial reaction, layers of insulation, benign denial, blame as denial, and conscious denial. At the end of the section, we will discuss the identifying strengths technique.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bartik, W. J., Maple, M., & McKay, K. (2020). Youth suicide bereavement and the continuum of risk. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. Advance online publication.
Lewis, K. C. (2019). Review of Teenage suicide notes: An ethnography of self-harm [Review of the book Teenage suicide notes: An ethnography of self-Harm, by T. Williams]. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(1), 108–111.
“Neural responses to gains and losses in children of suicide attempters”: Correction to Tsypes et al. (2016) (2017). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126(2), 243.
Schneider, B., Grebner, K., Schnabel, A., & Georgi, K. (2011). Is the emotional response of survivors dependent on the consequences of the suicide and the support received? Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 32(4), 186–193.
What are five emotional reactions clients may experience following a teenager’s suicide? To select and enter your answer go to .