A recently published book about how parents cope with the death of children from suicide or drug overdose -- Devastating Losses -- reports on groundbreaking research into grief after stigmatized deaths. According to a review in Clinical Social Work Journal (click on "Look Inside" for free access to the article),
Clinical and social science researchers have paid little attention to the experiences of parents grieving the loss of children to suicide, despite the fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for adolescents ... The large study reported on in Devastating Losses ... represents a substantial and important response to this call, with findings that are both clinically relevant and likely to inspire future research related to grieving parents.The book is noteworthy, as well, because its lead author and one of the co-authors, Bill and Bev Feigelman, respectively, are a husband and wife who lost their own son to suicide in 2003. The review points out that the Feigelman's "were able to use their personal experience of traumatic loss to guide their research questions and deeply sensitive approach to the topic":
Devastating Losses is a testament to the important role of meaning-making in grief work, in this case the power of scholarly inquiry in the context of profound personal loss.
One thing that makes the research "groundbreaking" is simply its depth, for the authors gathered and analyzed the results from 575 questionnaires, the largest sample of parents bereaved by suicide or drug overdose ever studied. Conclusions reached by the study include that parents who lost a child to suicide or drug overdose, when compared with other bereaved parents, have more mental health problems and feel more often rejected or neglected in their grief. A very revealing finding was that ...
Nearly half of the participants whose children died by suicide and drug overdose reported being explicitly blamed for their children's deaths by significant others.The researchers also looked at resources available for the population they were studying and learned, for instance, that support groups are generally viewed as being very helpful. There was a "sampling bias" affecting that finding, in that subjects were recruited from support groups, but ...
It is nevertheless important validation of the claim that parents attending these groups tend to find them helpful. Connection with other survivors may be especially important given the authors' findings about stigmatization and feelings of rejection and abandonment.In fact, the use of a scale of stigmatization is one of the most interesting facets of the research, which showed that "suicide survivors showed the highest scores on this scale," according to an op-ed by Bill Feigelman:
Some, even many years after the death, still remained unable to openly admit that their child died from a suicide or a drug overdose. These deaths were riddled with shame, embarrassment, and feelings of being shunned ... Unfortunately for these more stigmatized bereaved parents, they experienced greater grief difficulties, more complicated grief, and more assorted psychological problems than their counterparts, who gained more compassion and support from friends and family after their children's deaths.