Stigma, grief and depressive symptoms in help-seeking people bereaved through suicide

J Affect Disord. 2019 Feb 1;244:223-230. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.10.098. Epub 2018 Oct 11.


Background: The painful experience of mourning after suicide can be further complicated by the stigma surrounding suicide survival. We investigated how grief and depression influence the perception of stigma towards survivors in a sample of help-seeking persons bereaved through suicide.

Methods: Cross-sectional design. Information on sociodemographic variables and responses to the Stigma of Suicide Survivor Scale, Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG) was collected from 240 people bereaved through suicide who consecutively accessed an online support initiative.

Results: Despite the strong correlation between ICG and BDI scores, the intensity of depressive but not of grief symptoms was related to perceived stigma towards survivors. Time since loss was also positively related to levels of perceived stigma against survivors. The links between depression and perceived stigma persisted after taking into account relationship with the deceased and other sociodemographic factors.

Limitations: The main study limitations are the cross-sectional design, reliance on self-report measures, and the self-selection of the sample of people bereaved through suicide, seeking help through a website. Social support was not measured and the sample included a large proportion of women.

Conclusions: Specific interventions designed for persons bereaved by suicide should consider that psychological distress and mourning are qualitatively different reactions to a suicide loss. The relationship among perceived stigma, depressive suffering and time elapsed since the suicide loss suggests the usefulness of closely investigating the experience of stigma in all people bereaved through suicide with depressive symptoms, even long after the event.

Keywords: Complicated grief; Depression; Stigma; Suicide; Surviving; Survivor.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Help-Seeking Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Self Report
  • Social Stigma*
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Young Adult