Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


School Psychology

Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP, Chair, Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Terri Erbacher-Duff, PhD, Chairperson

Second Advisor

Rosemary Mennuti, EdD

Third Advisor

Scott Poland, EdD


This research explored the unique experiences of relatives of individuals who have died by suicide, termed suicide survivors, in an in-depth fashion using qualitative methods. Through a semi-structured interview, the present study explored how families dealt with general stress prior to the experience of suicide loss, how they handled the loss of a family member to suicide, and what has been used to cope in the aftermath. A major focus was to explore whether or not the event of suicide dramatically altered family dynamics or if families continued a pre-existing interaction pattern established prior to the loss. The results revealed that there was overall consistency in their patterns of interaction both prior to and following the experience of suicide loss. The support of friends was regarded as integral to the participants’ subjective well-being. Themes extracted from the interviews were compared with The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (Van Orden et al., 2010) and the resulting theory (“the perfect storm model”) integrates the elements that unified the experiences of the group of suicide survivors as a whole. In terms of intervention, results revealed that seeking out the support of others who have a shared experience of suicide loss was helpful in regard to mutual support and to instilling hope for the future. Additional processes of healing are explored and promoted as authentic options for mental health providers to use in their work with the particularly vulnerable population of suicide survivors.