The fact that the loss of loved ones due to suicide affects significant others rather directly, while often causing them to succumb to depression, has been well documented by health care professionals. Nevertheless, the psychological mechanics of this process are yet to be thoroughly researched, because as of today, there is no universally accepted criteria for measuring the severity of a grief, experienced by the relatives of those who succeeded in committing suicide. Given the fact that Western societies continue to become increasingly multicultural, outlining a methodological framework for establishing such criteria appears especially challenging task – after all, the particulars of people’s ethno-cultural affiliation do define the qualitative subtleties of their cognitive ability.1 Thus, the hypothesis that I will aim to explore, while conducting a literature review, can be summarized as follows: the motivations behind suicide and the qualitative essence of suicide-related grief cannot be assessed outside of affected people’s ability/inability to operate with highly abstract categories. The more intellectually advanced a particular individual is, the greater are the chances for him/her to end up experiencing a suicidal depression. Alternatively, the extent of people’s intellectual advancement relates to their tendency to suffer from suicide-related grief in counter-exponential progression – the higher is the particular individual’s rate of Intelligence Quotient (IQ), the lesser will be the severity of a grief, experienced by him or her on the account of loved ones committing a suicide. Given the fact that the rate of one’s IQ is being universally recognized as an objective scientific category, which can be quantitatively measured, the proposed methodological framework for validating paper’s hypothesis appears fully legitimate.
As it was pointed out in Introduction, the specifics of how people address life’s challenges reflect the varying extent of their ability to operate with abstract notions. However, as it was illustrated in Lynn and Vanhanen’s 2002 book “IQ and the wealth of nations”, such people’s ability cannot be discussed outside of particulars of their racially-biological makeup – whereas, citizens’ average rate of IQ in such African countries as Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria amounts to 55-60, citizens’ average rate of IQ in such countries as China and Japan reaches as high as 100-110. And, as psychologists are well aware of – the more intellectually advanced a particular individual is, the more he or she will be capable of subjecting its irrational emotions to its sense of rationale. Therefore, there can be little doubt as to the fact that the empirical findings, contained in Lynn and Vanhanen’s book, must be continuously observed by those who aim at gaining a comprehensive insight onto the roots of suicide and suicide-related grief.
In their article, Kjellin and Estman (2005) provide readers with the details of a study, conducted thorough 1996-1999 on 375 suicidal patients in Sweden’s four psychiatric clinics, in regards to the essence of their suicide-related anxieties. During the course of a study, the relatives of concerned individuals have also been asked to fill out a questionnaire, as to what defines their attitude, regarding suicidal tendencies in significant others (28% of interviewees have described their suicidal relatives’ behavioral inadequateness in terms of a ‘burden’). As study’s results indicated, the strength of patients’ suicidal anxieties was reflective of their likelihood to attempt suicide again. Also, according to study’s findings, the acuteness of suicidal depression, experienced by patients, was counter-proportionate of their tendency to indulge in physical violence (only 2 out 375 patients on suicide watch had a history of violence). Thus, this study’s conclusions subtly support the validity of an outlined hypothesis, as they establish a correlation between the strength of individual suicidal anxieties and his or her rate of IQ, which in its turn, is being extrapolated in individual’s likelihood to refrain from indulging in violence.
In a research study by Voracek (2006), the correlation between the rate of individual’s IQ and his or her tendency to commit suicide has been explored even to a further extent. After having interviewed 55474 middle-aged Austrians, selected from country’s (Austria) different districts, author came to the following conclusion, in regards to what categories of citizens are the most prone to suicidal depression: 1) People with IQ higher then 110, 2) Professionally creative individuals, such as writers, poets and actors, 3) Particularly bright university students, specializing in humanitarian disciplines. Alternatively, out of the sample selected by Voracek, the individuals most unaffected by the thoughts of suicide consisted predominantly of: 1) Representatives of racial minorities with low IQ, 2) Twins, 3) People suffering from impulsive-aggressive disorder and those affected by physiological/mental retardation. Author concluded his study by suggesting that an additional research must be conducted onto the qualitative subtleties of a correlation between the rate of people’s IQ and their tendency to commit suicide.
Nevertheless, there are also a few studies on the subject of a relation between the extent of people’s intelligence and their likelihood to contemplate suicide, the findings of which point out at something entirely opposite – the lesser is the rate of individual’s IQ, the greater are the chances for him or her to experience suicidal depression. In their study “Is low IQ associated with an increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts?”, Gunnell, Harbord, Singleton, Jenkins and Lewis (2009), provide readers with results of a psychological survey, conducted in 2000 over the sample of 8580 British soldiers on active duty, in regards to whether they have even thought of suicide. According to study’s findings, there is positive correlation between the slow pace of soldiers’ rise through the ranks (which usually reflect their lessened intellectual abilities) and the likelihood for these soldiers to contemplate on taking their own lives. Just as it was the case with earlier discussed study, authors have come to conclusion that the additional research must be conducted onto the subject matter. Nevertheless, this study does indirectly support paper’s initial thesis, as its context implies the existence of an innate link between one’s intelligence and his or her susceptibility to suicidal thoughts – something that we have hypothesized upon from the very beginning.
However, the rate of people’s intellectual advancement does not only define their suicidal potential, but also the qualitative essence of a grief, experienced by them on the account of loosing relatives due to suicide. As it appears from Miyabayashi and Yasuda’s (2007) study, conducted over the sample of Japanese 174 women and 41 men, the suicide-related bereavement, experienced by interviewees, was usually sublimating itself into emotional awkwardness, rather than into an emotionally based physical distress. Such study’s conclusions are being consistent with this paper’s initial thesis – given the fact that Japanese citizens’ average rate of IQ is among world’s highest, it comes as no surprise that they do not grieve suicide-related deaths of loved ones as intensely as it is the case in countries, where the bulk of citizens are being endowed with rural mentality, and consequentially – lesser IQ.
At the same time, it would be inappropriate to discuss the intensity of post-suicidal bereavement as being solely related to the extent of intellectual advancement, on the part of those who experience it. As it appears out of study by Lindqvist, Johansson and Karlsson (2008), concerned with interviewing individuals affected by cases of teenage-suicide, which had taken place in Northern Sweden through 1995-1998, the suicide-related loss of adolescents is being grieved by significant others much more intensely, as compared to suicide-related loss of adults. According to study, 65% of parents who had dealt with suicidal deaths of their children ended up deciding in favor of social withdrawal, as the ultimate consequence of such their experience. Authors hypothesized that the best way for psychologists to go about relieving parents’ suicide-related bereavement is encouraging them to think of deaths of their children within gnoseological framework of ‘what for?’, instead of ‘why?’: “If there are no answers, why ask questions?” (2008, p. 4). However, as it was mentioned earlier, it is namely the extent of people’s intellectual development, which defines their ability to suppress their irrational emotions, upon confirming these emotions’ counter-productiveness.
In a research article by Fielden (2003), author had embarked upon the task of analyzing bereavement, on the part of relatives affected by suicide of family members, as the form of transformative experience. Within the methodological context of a study, six participants (affected by suicidal deaths of significant others) were selected from New Zealand’s three metropolitan areas, and asked to fill out a questionnaire, in which they were supposed to describe qualitative subtleties of their experience of grief. According to an obtained data, the main emotional anxieties felt by interviewed individuals, consisted of: 1) Experiencing mental chaos, 2) Excessive dreaming about diseased relatives as the subconscious sublimation of their attempt to say good-bye, 3) Searching for the reminders of the deceased. Nevertheless, according to Fielden, the emotional intensity of relatives’ bereavement did not last for too long – within the matter of few months, five out of study’s six participants had accepted the finality of their loved ones’ departure. In its turn, this allowed them to overcome their grief and to begin acting as productive members of society again. Given the fact that the average rate of citizens’ IQ in New Zealand equals 100 (high), this study’s findings make perfectly good sense.
In Doka’s (2005) article, the capacity of suicidal/euthanasial bereavement to serve as mind-opener has been explored even further. According to author (a highly credible psychiatrist), who had received hundreds of letters from the relatives of people who committed a suicide and from the relatives of incurably ill patients, who had undergone a euthanasia procedure, the severity of post-suicidal/euthanasial grief is often being exaggerated. Doka pointed out to the fact that, as time goes by, more and more people in Western countries grow to think of suicide in terms of one’s ‘end-of-life decision’. After all, the most fundamental tenets of Western democracy are based upon recognition of individual’s right to exercise a full sovereignty over its own life. The exercising of such sovereignty includes terminating life, if proven unbearable. Therefore, the recognition of a simple fact that “end-of-life decisions may not always be negative” (2005, p.83) will come as a great asset for those people who suffer on the account of their relatives’ suicidal deaths. Thus, the application of rationale-based reasoning appears to be the most effective way of remedying bereavement, on the part of people affected by suicide of significant others, especially if their IQ is higher than 100.
It is needless to say, of course, that such perspective on dealing with suicidal grief is not being shared by Christian ministers, who think that it is exclusively up to them to represent a ‘moral authority’ in this world. In his article “Left behind: Helping survivors heal after a suicide death”, one of such ministers Victor Parachin (2009) came up with particularly ‘valuable’ advice, as to how counselors should go about providing suicide-affected people with much needed spiritual relief: “Better ways of responding include empathetic statements, such as: I’m so sorry. This must be very hard for you…” (2009, p. 51). In order to substantiate the appropriateness of such his advice, Parachin could not come up with anything better then quoting excessively from the Bible, while trying to emphasize God’s mercifulness. However, author tactfully avoided mentioning parts from the ‘good book’, in which merciful God explicitly states that people who take their own lives will be cast into the ‘lake of fire’ for an eternity. As practice shows, it is namely people with low IQ who are being endowed with strong religious beliefs – and, the more a particular individual is being religious, the harder for him/her would be to deal with suicide-related death of a loved one. The reason for this is simple – whereas, religion-based understanding of suicide implies sin, the secular understanding of end-of-life decision implies freedom.
In their article, Valente and Saunders (2002), have shown that it is not only the close relatives of people who committed a suicide, which experience often an unbearable feeling of grief, but also nurses and doctors who maintained personal contacts with these people, up until very last. However, according to authors, there is another aspect as to how health care professionals are being affected by suicide-related bereavement – the fact that they have failed at preventing patients in their care from committing a suicide, poses an immediate danger to their professional career: “How nurses grieve may influence their career development, future management of suicidal patients, and emotional equilibrium” (2002, p. 14). The realization of this fact, had brought authors to conclude that, just as it is being often the case with the relatives of suicide victims, nurses must also be provided with an opportunity to seek a psychological/spiritual/legal counseling, on the account of their suicide-related grief.
In their article “Parental suicide and its aftermath: A review”, Ratnarajah and Schofield (2007) aimed to explore how parental suicide affects the emotional well-being of children. The qualitative research methodology, employed by authors, was mainly concerned with the review of a relevant literature. According to study’s findings, there is a significant difference in how children from different age groups are being affected by grief, on the account of their parents’ suicide-related deaths: 1) Children under the age of two do not understand the full implications of their parents’ deaths, which is why they do not seem to experience much of an anxiety, in regards to the loss of their parents, 2) Children through the ages of 5-13 appear as the most vulnerable to hearing the news about their parents suicidal deaths, 3) Teenagers through the age of 16, while being deeply affected by their parents’ deaths due to suicide, nevertheless appear more capable of ‘digesting’ the news, as compared to children of 5-13 years old. Thus, just as it is the case with earlier analyzed studies, the ideas contained in Ratnarajah and Schofield’s article do support this review’s initial suggestion as to the fact that there is an objectively existing correlation between the qualitative essence of one’s cognitive abilities and the way, in which he or she deals with suicide-related loss of loved ones.
The study by Melhem, Day, Shear, Reynolds and Brent (2004), contains many interesting suggestions as to the factors that contribute to the acuteness of suicide-related grief among adolescents. In it, authors attempted to define the predictors of complicated grief in young people who have dealt with the experience of loosing peers due to suicide. After having conducted an interview with 146 friends and acquaintances of 26 suicide victims in Pittsburgh through years 1988-1991, researchers were able to define the main predictors of such grief as: 1) Affected interviewees’ gender affiliation, 2) The strength of religious beliefs, on the part of affected interviewees. According to study’s results, the number of female adolescents, affected by the feeling of an overwhelming grief, on the account of their peers’ suicidal deaths, overextended the number of male adolescents experiencing the same type of anxiety by three. Also, as study’s findings indicated, it were namely Hispanic interviewees (both: males and females), whose suicide-related bereavement balanced on the edge of physical illness. Authors explain it by these particular interviewees’ strong affiliation with Catholicism. Thus, the study by Melhem et al. does contain implicit suggestions as to existence of a link, between people’s sense of perceptional femininity (low IQ, strong religiosity) and their inability to recover from the grief, on the account of their peers’ suicidal deaths.
In his article “Two faces of the culture of death: relationship between grief work and Hungarian peasant soul beliefs”, Berta (2001), provides readers with better understanding as to why one’s endowment with rural mentality, which celebrates the ‘values’ of tribal intolerance, ritualistic religiosity and intellectual inflexibility, appears especially counter-productive, within the context of such individual trying to deal with suicidal deaths of significant others. According to Berta, the reason why intellectually primitive peasants think that it represents a taboo to even talk about suicide, is that the way in which they address life’s challenges is being essentially animalistic – that is, they cannot fully comprehend the finality of death, and to say the least – embrace death: “Peasants’ epistemological compulsion to anthropomorphize, derives from the taboo character of death. This is why they can conceive death and afterlife first of all on the model of earthly life, through the projection of anthropomorphic categories and concepts” (2001, p. 85). This is exactly the reason why, according to author, the victims of suicide in Hungary’s rural areas are not even being allowed for the burial in the cemetery – peasants’ strong sense of primeval religiosity causes them to think that by even mentioning the name of a suicide victim, they spell curse upon themselves. In its turn, this explains why in small villages, the relatives of those who had committed a suicide, often go about committing suicide themselves.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think of an unofficial taboo on discussing suicide-related subjects, imposed by society, as being objectively predetermined. In their study, Gustafsson and Jacobsson (2001) have proven the full soundness of this suggestion beyond any reasonable doubt. The aim of the study was to define whether the application of phone-based ‘psychological autopsy’ to the relatives of suicide victims was ethically appropriate. During the course of a research, 100 interviewees (75 men and 25 women) were approached over the phone on whether they felt comfortable discussing the recent suicidal deaths of their friends and relatives. Ninety-one respondents (91%) reacted to this inquiry positively. Thus, just as it was the case with most articles and studies analyzed earlier, Gustafsson and Jacobsson’s study implies that the intensity of a suicide-related bereavement among significant others is being often exaggerated, especially if the citizens of particularly secular countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Netherlands are being concerned.
According to sociological data, obtained during the course of a study by Rurup, Onwuteaka-Philipsen and Van Der Wal (2005), in recent years, people’s attitudes towards suicide/euthanasia in European countries that feature world’s highest standards of living, have undergone a dramatic transformation – nowadays, intellectually advanced individuals do not think of one’s voluntary death as something utterly horrible. Apparently, these people have come to realize a simple fact that the horrible end is still better then horror without the end. As study indicates, in Netherlands, 60% of physicians in palliative care units, 68% of ordinary citizens, and 76% of relatives of terminally ill/suicidal individuals fully support the statement that was offered for their consideration, during the course of a research: “Everybody has the right to decide about their own life and death” (2005, p. 523). In its turn, this implies that these people’s bereavement, on the account of impending deaths of their loved ones, due to suicide or due to euthanasia, is not going to be utterly unbearable.
It appears that, with the exception of a study by Gunnell et al. (2009), the literature review of scholarly sources, conducted in paper’s main part, fully supports the initial hypothesis as to the fact that individual’s tendency to contemplate suicide and also the qualitative subtleties of one’s suicide-related grief, reflect the extent of concerned individuals’ intellectual advancement. Therefore, it represents the matter of crucial importance for psychologists and for spiritual councilors to be able to approach the task of remedying this type of grief from science-based, rather than from religion-based perspective.
Berta, P. (2001). Two faces of the culture of death: relationship between grief work and Hungarian peasant soul beliefs. Journal of Loss and Trauma 6 (2), 83-113.
Doka, K. (2005). Ethics, end-of-life decisions and grief. Mortality 10(1), 83 –90.
Fielden, J. (2003). Grief as a transformative experience: Weaving through different lifeworlds after a loved one has completed suicide. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 12(1), 74–85.
Gunnell, D. et al. (2009). Is low IQ associated with an increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts? Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology 44(1), 34-38.
Gustafsson, L. & Jacobsson, L. (2001). Interviewing significant others by telephone as part of a modified psychologic autopsy. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 54(2), 127-133.
Kjellin, L. & Ostman, M. (2005). Relatives of psychiatric inpatients – do physical violence and suicide attempts of patients influence family burden and participation in care? Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 59(1), 7-11.
Lindqvist, P. et al. (2008). In the aftermath of teenage suicide: A qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members. BMC Psychiatry 8(26), 1-7.
Lynn, R. & Vanhanen, T. (2002). IQ and the wealth of nations. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Melhem, N. et al. (2004). Predictors of complicated grief among adolescents exposed to a peer’s suicide. Journal of Loss & Trauma 9(1), 21-34.
Miyabayashi, S. & Yasuda, J. (2007). Effects of loss from suicide, accidents, acute illness and chronic illness on bereaved spouses and parents in Japan: Their general health, depressive mood, and grief reaction. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 61(3), 502–508.
Parachin, V. (2009). Left behind: Helping survivors heal after a suicide death. Clergy Journal 85(7), 50-51.
Ratnarajah, D. & Schofield, M. (2007). Parental suicide and its aftermath: A review. Journal of Family Studies 13(1), 78-93.
Rurup, M. et al. (2005). A “Suicide pill” for older people: Attitudes of physicians, the general population, and relatives of patients who died after euthanasia of physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands. Death Studies 29(6), 519-534.
Valente, S. & Saunders, J. (2002). Nurses’ grief reactions to a patient’s suicide. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 38(1), 5-14.
Voracek, M. (2006). Smart and suicidal? The social ecology of intelligence and suicide in Austria. Death Studies 30(5), 471-485.
- Lynn, R. & Vanhanen, T. (2002). IQ and the wealth of nations.