Losing a friend to suicide leaves a huge impact on a person’s psyche and a recent study shows that this traumatic experience can increase your own suicide risk. For the study, published today in BMJ Open, researchers sent an online survey to young adult staff and students from several U.K. universities. There were 3,432 respondents, all of whom had suddenly lost a friend or family member due to natural or unnatural causes, or to suicide. Participants were also asked whether they’d had any depression, suicidal ideation, or non-suicidal self-harm since they lost that person.
The results showed that those who were bereaved by a death due to suicide were more likely to have experienced depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts, compared to those who were bereaved by other types of deaths. Although any sudden emotional event can increase your risk for depression and, therefore, suicide, participants who were dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide had a 65% increased risk compared to those who lost someone to natural causes.
Even though mental illness is in no way a communicable disease, the risk for suicide can spread between people who are close. Researchers have been investigating this idea of “suicide contagion” for a while now, and some schools have plans in place to prevent its spread. Other research shows that you don’t actually have to be personally close to someone for their death by suicide to impact you in this way. For instance, there was an unprecedented spike in calls to suicide hotlines in the weeks following Robin Williams’ death.
This new study also found that suicide risk was especially elevated among those who were bereaved by suicide and who reported a high degree of social stigma around 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,” said Alexandra Pitman, PhD, the study’s lead author, in a press release.
It’s extremely important that we do whatever we can to make people feel more comfortable talking about the things they’re going through — without the fear of being judged or feeling like no one actually cares.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.