Journal Article

From Sense-Making to Meaning-Making: Understanding and Supporting Survivors of Suicide

Dolores Angela Castelli Dransart

in The British Journal of Social Work

Volume 43, issue 2, pages 317-335
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online February 2013 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
From Sense-Making to Meaning-Making: Understanding and Supporting Survivors of Suicide

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This article reports findings from a qualitative study conducted in Switzerland, aimed at understanding how forty-eight survivors made sense of the suicide of a loved one. In-depth interviews were carried out and grounded theory analysis was performed. Suicide shatters the assumptive world of survivors. In their quest for meaning, they undergo three processes. Sense-making is seeking comprehensibility and consists of rebuilding the path which led to suicide and the figure of the person who died. Memory-building encompasses dealing with the legacy of suicide, by preserving reputation and presenting a public storyline intended for people outside the family circle. Meaning-making allows the survivor to journey towards an existential significance of the loss. Four ways of meaning-making were highlighted: for some, suicide becomes the driving force behind a commitment to suicide prevention; for others, it is the source of an increased awareness of life. Other survivors cannot find a constructive personal existential meaning, which prevents the rebuilding of self. Finally, for a minority, suicide is a mishap which needs to be dealt with. Suggestions are made on how social workers can assist survivors in their processes of meaning-making by supporting the elaboration of constructive narratives and offering tailored resources.

Keywords: Bereavement; grounded theory; meaning-making; social workers' practice; survivors of suicide

Journal Article.  6535 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Work

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