Surviving an act of violence.
Surviving an accident.
Surviving a fatal illness.
These are just a few of the many causes of survivor’s guilt, an under-the-radar mental condition that has made its way into the spotlight after a few tragedies that occured in March.
We’ve seen this brought into the headlines as of recently because of people taking their own lives due to school-shooting related cases. Recently, there has been a father who lost his daughter in the Sandy Hook shooting, and two survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland.
This is an issue that doesn’t seem to be not a hot topic of conversation, and is unknown by many.
It’s defined as “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress experienced by someone who has survived an incident in which others died” by the Dictionary.
Central York High School Psychology teacher Mr. David Demarzo said, “Survivors guilt is basically the feeling one experiences when surviving a life-threatening situation and feeling unworthy or guilt ridden for having done so while others did not survive.”
This diagnosis can actually date back all the way to the Holocaust, and is more common than people may believe. From there is transformed from a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), to being a side effect of PTSD.
“Some theorists have suggested that this may be because people would prefer to blame themselves for things outside their control than to accept that they are helpless. Also worth noting, when people believe your survivor guilt isn’t rational, they may try to minimize it by telling you not to feel guilty which can be kind of frustrating,” (What’s Your Grief).
The thing with this mental condition is that the extreme may vary and so may the cause.
DeMarzo said, “Typically, it's experienced by Holocaust survivors, war veterans (soldiers & civilians) surviving disaster and even organ transplant patients.”
Some cases that are less common are: when a parent dies from complications of childbirth, after receiving an organ transplant, after causing an accident in which others died and guilt for not being present at the time of an accident to potentially save the person who died.
More common cases we see are things like after surviving war, surviving an accident and surviving a natural disaster.
Since each case is different depending on the extremity of the situation, symptoms are different for each person as well.
“Survivor's Guilt is often associated with PTSD and so has similar symptoms, which may include: flashbacks, feeling irritable, trouble sleeping & eating, lack of motivation, hopelessness and sadness.”
This diagnosis can be a lasting impact on the individuals who have the condition, there are several different ways to go about treatment.
“Besides seeing a therapist, a person can work on changing the negative and irrational
thinking that drives their feelings of guilt. Also, just allowing yourself time to grieve can help,” DeMarzo said.
Psychology Today offers coping tips such as: give yourself time to grieve, remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically, think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation, remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it, try to be of service to someone or something, remind yourself that you’re not alone, be patient, share your feelings with those you trust and get professional help as needed.
If you need help or know of someone in need of help, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.