A suicidal crisis can happen to people who have been extremely self-reliant throughout their life. During a family crisis, they may bury their own feelings and care for everyone else. They are often described as the rock of the family or “the strong one”.
Crucially, they may never learn to ask for help or support – and this is the key part. The pain of major life events can accumulate over the years. It may stay buried inside because they never talk about it. Eventually, a final trigger may occur – one too many painful life events. This can “unlock” painful or traumatic events, which they have filed away in a compartment of their mind. The years of pain that have built up inside them may be released at this point. It can be overwhelming, and may trigger a suicidal crisis.
John described this very powerfully. When his wife left him unexpectedly, he started to experience all the pain of previous losses, including the traumatic deaths of two family members which had happened many years ago. He said it was as if he had locked all this away in boxes in his head, but the shock of his wife leaving him “blew the lids off all the boxes”.
John explained to us that his wife had left him suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a massive shock to him: “She told me she was leaving me and walked out that same day. I didn’t see any signs that it was going to happen. She said she had met someone else.”
If you had met John at that time, you might have assumed that he developed suicidal thoughts because his wife had left him. But it was much more complex than that. It is almost always a combination of many different factors that cause someone to experience a suicidal crisis – it is very rarely a single factor. It became clear that John had experienced two traumatic deaths in his family several years before. These were sudden and unexpected deaths.
He suppressed his own emotions and his own pain at the time of both deaths. He took care of everyone else in the family instead. He focused on them. He supported them and comforted them. He did not talk about his own feelings of loss. The pain of both deaths remained locked inside him. He did not have the chance to grieve for either of his relatives.
All these experiences – the recent loss of his wife, and the previous loss of family members through death – had something in common. They all involved the deeply painful loss of a loved one, which happened suddenly and unexpectedly. As a result, his wife’s sudden departure triggered powerful memories and feelings about these two previous sudden, painful losses. He said that he felt he was now experiencing the pain of all these losses at once – his wife leaving him, and the earlier deaths of family members. He was also now feeling all the complex emotions that had been buried – including intense guilt, which is so often a part of traumatic grief. His suffering was immense at this time.
From “The Suicide Prevention Pocket Guidebook: How To Support Someone Who Is Having Suicidal Feelings” by Joy Hibbins (CEO of the charity Suicide Crisis) published September 2021