Spouse and family functioning before and after a Marine’s suicide: Comparisons to deaths by accident and in combat.


The impact of service member suicides on families is not well understood. Civilian studies have demonstrated that family survivors of suicide deaths experience complicated grief, feel guilt and shame, and often do not receive sufficient social support. In this exploratory study, spouse survivors of Marines who died by suicide (N = 17), accident (N = 19), and in combat (N = 34) retrospectively reported on their immediate pre- and postmortem and current personal and family functioning. Nonparametric analyses revealed that several between-group differences existed. Observation of the means suggested that the spouses and families of Marines who died by suicide exhibited significantly poorer pre- and postmortem functioning compared with those whose spouses died in combat. Specific challenges included low family cohesion, high family conflict, perceived stigma, and shame. There were no differences in current spouse or family functioning, and there was weak evidence for posttraumatic growth among surviving spouses of those dying by suicide. These results should be considered preliminary and interpreted with caution given several methodological challenges. Impact Statement What is the public significance of this article?-This study found that there was less closeness and more conflict among families whose Marine fathers died by suicide compared to families whose fathers died by other means. Spouses of those who died by suicide experience more difficult feelings emotions than those who die by other means. Prevention efforts may be enhanced by working with the families of those who are at risk for suicide. Suicide survivors would benefit from services/supports targeted to their unique needs.