A primary factor that differentiates an unattended natural death response (Lesson #7) from one involving a suicide is the unanswerable question often posed. When a death occurs the question of “WHY?” is asked, why did this happen, why did they die, why, why, why.
With a suicide, survivor guilt lays heavy on those left behind. The “why?” becomes “what if?” in the form of what if I would have done something, what if I would have listened or what if I would have recognized something was bothering him/her.
Suicide is not only unexpected it is unanticipated. While a fatal car accident or a sudden heart attack is unexpected, it is something that it thought of as can or might happen. Suicide is not something people consider as a might happen. Suicide leads those left behind to think something could have been done to prevent it. Suicide doesn’t just happen. Suicide is a mental progression which presents symptoms, but unlike a cold or the flu, most people don’t recognize the symptoms.
The crisis responder can not be expected to be a psychologist and should not attempt to fill that role. There are issues at play that can not be discussed let alone be resolved at the immediate time of the crisis. The best way to proceed is to acknowledge the issues raised and suggest the answers will unfold in due course. The crisis responder may suggest resources that may provide information and/or support. These may include suicide support groups, clergy, and medical professionals.
Initially, the crisis responder must remember that a suicide will be treated as a potential “crime scene” and it is important to report to law enforcement anything witnesses may say that will clarify the situation one way or another. Do not ask family or witnesses leading questions until after the police have concluded their immediate on-scene investigation.
All other aspects of the scene should be dealt with the same as other unattended death responses.
For more information concerning the process of Crisis Response Management, watch for LESSON #16 – Summarizing Emotional First Aid.