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  • Writer's pictureMisti Luke

The Silent Struggle: Why Families Hide Suicide

There is a veil of silence, stigma, and secrecy surrounding the topic of suicide. Many opt to conceal the fact that a family member committed suicide, frequently keeping the manner of death confidential or citing a different cause. This secrecy may be motivated by different factors, such as shame, fear, and societal expectations. This article delves into the reasons why certain families decide to keep the reality of suicide hidden and the repercussions of this secrecy on the survivors.

The Silence Around Suicide

Family standing around a casket covered in flowers at a cemetary
Traditional American Bural

For many families, the stigma associated with suicide is overwhelming. The fear of judgment from others can lead to a decision to keep the true cause of death hidden. In smaller communities especially, where everyone knows each other, the pressure to maintain a certain image can be intense. Families might worry about being labeled or ostracized, which can contribute to the decision to remain silent.

In some family cultures, discussing suicide in general is considered taboo. The cultural and societal norms that discourage open conversations about mental health issues often play a significant role in perpetuating this silence.

Additionally, media portrayals of suicide often contribute to the stigma, presenting it in a sensationalized or negative light, which can influence public perception and discourage families from speaking out.

Reasons for Concealment

Shame and Stigma

Families sometimes feel a profound sense of shame when a loved one dies by suicide. This shame can be rooted in the belief that suicide is somehow a moral failing or a sign of weakness. The stigma surrounding mental health issues exacerbates these feelings, making it difficult for some families to open up about the true cause of death.

Additionally, religious beliefs can have a substantial impact on feelings of shame. In numerous religions, suicide is considered a sinful act, causing families to conceal the reality to evade religious censure or potential criticism from their peers, acquaintances, and colleagues.

When religious beliefs are deeply ingrained in the social fabric of a community, the stigma associated with suicide can be particularly strong. Delve into the viewpoints on suicide from five of the most recognized religions listed below.

  1. Christianity, which makes up 31.6% of planet earth's population:

  2. The Catholic Church considers suicide a grave sin because it goes against the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" and the belief in the sanctity of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that suicide is a violation of the love of self and neighbor, but also acknowledges that psychological conditions can diminish responsibility​ (SAVE Suicide Prev Aware)​.

  3. Protestant denominations (Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian etc.) also view suicide as wrong, though they may have differing interpretations on the extent of sinfulness and the factors that influence one's culpability.

  1. Islam, which accounts of 25.8% of the world's population:

  • Islam strictly prohibits suicide, considering it a major sin. The Quran explicitly forbids taking one's own life, and Hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) reinforce the prohibition by stating that those who commit suicide will face severe consequences in the afterlife.

  1. Judaism makes up .02% of the world's population:

  • Traditional Jewish law (Halacha) views suicide as a serious sin because it violates the commandment to preserve life. However, in modern times, there is an understanding that mental illness can impact one's actions, potentially reducing the culpability of the individual.

  1. Hinduism- sitting at 15.1% of the population:

  • Hinduism generally considers suicide a violation of the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and the natural law of karma. It is believed to result in negative karmic consequences and impede the soul's journey towards moksha (liberation) .

  1. Buddhism which accounts for 7% of the world's population :

  • Buddhism teaches that life is precious and that one should strive to overcome suffering rather than end it through suicide. The act of taking one's own life is seen as generating negative karma, which can affect future rebirths.

Each of the five religions mentioned above has its own nuances and teachings regarding suicide, often influenced by broader theological principles about life, death, and the afterlife. These views contribute to the stigma and secrecy surrounding suicide in various cultures around the world.

Past stories from (What's Your Grief )highlight this struggle. One woman shared that her brother's suicide was never discussed openly in her family. They cited an "accident" in his obituary and avoided any conversations about mental health, fearing judgment from their religious community. This avoidance only deepened their grief and isolation.

Fear of Contagion

There is a common fear that talking about suicide might encourage others to consider it. This fear, known as the "contagion effect," can lead families to avoid discussing the topic altogether. While the intention is to protect others, this silence can prevent open conversations about mental health and suicide prevention.

(Research) has shown that responsible media coverage and open discussions about suicide can actually help reduce the risk of contagion. Providing accurate information, promoting mental health resources, and sharing stories of hope and recovery can foster a supportive environment where people feel safe seeking help.

Personal Fear

The fear of facing one's own vulnerability can also contribute to the silence. Many people believe that they would never consider suicide, but acknowledging the reality of a loved one's suicide can challenge this belief. This fear can lead to avoidance and denial, further perpetuating the silence around the topic.

Understanding the complexity of suicide is essential. Mental health professionals emphasize that suicide is rarely the result of a single factor but rather a culmination of various stressors and mental health issues. Acknowledging this complexity can help reduce fear and promote a more compassionate and informed approach to prevention and support.

Consequences of Silence

The decision to hide the truth about a loved one's suicide can have profound effects on those left behind. The lack of open discussion can prevent families from receiving the support they need to adequately cope with their loss. It can also perpetuate misinformation and stigma, making it harder for others to seek help for their mental health struggles in the months and years to come.

Younger children in particular may suffer when the truth is hidden. They may overhear whispers or piece together fragments of conversations, leading to confusion and fear.

Without honest discussions, these children are left to grapple with their emotions alone, which can impact their mental health and development.

Survivors of suicide loss often experience intense feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and isolation. Support groups and counseling can provide a safe space for survivors to share their experiences and find solace in knowing they are not alone.

However, accessing these types of resources can be difficult, especially in more rural areas. Additionally, getting help requires breaking the silence, a difficult thing to do for family members who have been taught to keep personal problems to themselves.

Suicide Underreporting Challenges

While there is no exact figure available for the percentage of suicides concealed in the US annually, it is acknowledged that the underreporting and deliberate misclassification of suicides are major concerns in the United States. This masking can result in suicides being inaccurately labeled as accidents or other types of fatalities.

According to the CDC and various suicide prevention organizations, the official suicide rate in the US was 14.8 per 100,000 people in 2021​ (Our World in Data)​​ (SAVE Suicide Prev Aware)​. The actual number could be higher due to underreporting. The stigma surrounding suicide, cultural and religious beliefs, and concerns about social repercussions contribute to this underreporting.

Breaking the Silence

Creating a safe space for open dialogue about suicide is crucial. Encouraging conversations about mental health and providing support for those affected by suicide can help break down the barriers of silence and stigma. Resources such as support groups, counseling, and educational programs can play a vital role in this process.

Community initiatives and public awareness campaigns can also make a difference. Schools, workplaces, and community organizations can implement mental health programs and training to educate people about suicide prevention and support.

By fostering an environment of understanding and compassion, we can create a culture where people feel safe discussing their struggles and seeking help.

Personal stories of resilience and recovery can inspire hope. Sharing experiences of overcoming mental health challenges and finding support can help others feel less alone and more encouraged to seek help. These stories can also highlight the importance of community and the impact of collective efforts to prevent suicide.

Concealing the reality of a loved one's suicide is frequently a way of dealing with the situation influenced by feelings of shame, fear, and societal expectations. Nevertheless, speaking up is crucial for the process of healing and for preventing similar tragedies. By encouraging honest discussions and offering assistance, we can work towards diminishing the taboo associated with suicide, guaranteeing that individuals do not have to face their struggles alone.

To sum up, by exploring the causes of silence and offering actionable measures for open communication, we can create more compassionate and supportive communities. Let's pledge to end the silence that often surrounds suicide and show empathy and compassion towards individuals impacted by suicide.

Get Help

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, it is crucial to reach out for support and assistance. The National Suicide Lifeline, accessible by dialing 988, provides a vital resource for individuals in crisis.

This lifeline offers a compassionate and confidential space where trained professionals can listen, offer guidance, and connect individuals with the help they need to navigate through difficult times. It is important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and no one has to face these challenges alone.

By reaching out to the 988 National Suicide Lifeline, individuals can take a crucial step towards prioritizing their mental health and well-being. Remember, you are not alone, and support is just a phone call away.

About the Author

Misti Luke is a licensed therapist who operates a small private counseling practice in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.



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