January can often be a particularly tough time for people who struggle with mental health problems. For some the challenge to maintain any kind of hope for the future can feel too much to bear, culminating in an attempt to take their own lives. Recovery following an attempted suicide poses very real and varied difficulties which can be overcome with the support of professionals or family.
One local psychologist, however, wishes to highlight that historically there has been virtually no support for individuals who care for someone in the wake of an attempt.
Dr. Francis McGivern believes that we as a society make a gross assumption that ‘significant others’, such as parents, adult children, and partners are automatically capable of taking on the substantial burden of caring for a relative following their suicide attempt.
In fact, according to original research he has recently carried out, some partners experience so much anger and sense of betrayal that not all of them even feel motivated to help their loved one in the aftermath of their suicide attempt.
“I interviewed a number of partners who described the experience as transformative for them because it forever changed them as individuals, their outlook on life, and in particular their relationship with their partner”, reported Dr. McGivern. “Partners experienced multiple traumas for example, finding their loved one shortly after the suicide attempt and witnessing hospital staff’s frantic attempts to resuscitate them.
“They were then plagued with a sense of guilt and a desperate search for answers as to why their loved one chose to attempt to kill themselves.
“For some partners they felt their in-laws actually implied that this would not have happened had they shown more tender-loving-care”.
Dr. McGivern also found that the event for some partners not only caused unresolved childhood traumatic experiences to resurface but that their physical health also deteriorated, all of which only added to the stress they were already under.
“Partners were traumatised too by the loss of the person they had chosen to spend their life with despite there having been no obvious bereavement.
“They experienced them as being physically present but psychologically absent. In addition, rather than viewing the suicide attempt as an opportunity to bring the couple closer together, as is very often a conclusion that people draw, partners were forced to completely reassess their relationship.”
For some, they felt they could no longer fully trust their husband/wife and one individual interviewed by Dr. McGivern chose to leave the relationship shortly after the suicide attempt.
On a more positive note, according to Dr. McGivern, “the vast majority of individuals that were interviewed experienced trauma but also some forms of growth and profound improvement in for example, relating to others; personal and spiritual strength; appreciation of life; and a belief in new possibilities”.
Dr. McGivern reiterates that the impact of a suicide attempt on a partner is a complex phenomenon and calls on medical and counselling professionals as well as society as a whole to avoid assuming that partners are ready and willing to support their loved ones following an attempted suicide without first acknowledging the trauma they are experiencing and offering support to them also.
“By doing so everyone is more likely to fare well long-term, including the couple relationship.”
Dr. Francis McGivern offers individual, couple, and group support in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. He can be contacted via www.louthcounselling.com