When Suicide is Listed in Obituaries

Historically, people who die by suicide and those who survive them have been perceived more negatively than those affected by other types of death (e.g., Reynolds & Cimbolic, 1988). Yet, it is unclear whether these negative perceptions actually lead to decreased social and emotional support for people bereaved by suicide.  A study published in Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention examined whether specifying suicide as the cause of death in an obituary impacts perceptions of a decedent and willingness to provide support to the decedent’s family. A group of 253 participants were randomly assigned to read one of three fictional obituaries that were identical except for the stated cause of death (suicide, cancer, or drug overdose). Participants responded to questions about the decedent and behaviors toward the family. Results showed that people depicted as dying by suicide were viewed more negatively than decedents depicted as dying due to cancer. Contrary to the research prediction, participants endorsed similar levels of willingness to provide support to the bereaved family regardless of the type of death specified in the obituary.  The findings suggest that, even though those who die by suicide are viewed more negatively, their survivors may receive support that is similar to people bereaved by other types of death.

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