“I lost so much more than my partner” : Bereaved partners’ grief experiences following suicide or physician-assisted dying in case of a mental disorder


There is a lack of existing research on grief following the intentional death of people suffering from a mental disorder. Our study aims to provide insight into grief experiences and social reactions of bereaved persons who lost their life partners, who were suffering from a mental disorder, to physician-assisted dying (PAD) or suicide.


For this mixed-methods research, we conducted a survey and in-depth interviews with 27 persons living in the Netherlands and bereaved by the death of their life partners. The deceased life partners suffered from a mental disorder and had died by physician-assisted dying (n = 12) or suicide (n = 15). Interviews explored grief experiences and social reactions. In the survey we compared self-reported grief reactions of partners bereaved by suicide and PAD using the Grief Experience Questionnaire.


Compared to suicide, physician-assisted dying was associated with less severe grief experiences of the bereaved partners. Participants reported that others rarely understood the suffering of their deceased partners and sometimes expected them to justify their partners’ death. Following physician-assisted dying, the fact that the partner’s euthanasia request was granted, helped others understand that the deceased person’s mental suffering had been unbearable and irremediable. Whereas, following suicide, the involvement of the bereaved partners was sometimes the focus of judicial inquiry, especially, if the partner had been present during the death.


When individuals suffering from a mental disorder die by suicide or PAD, their bereaved partners may experience a lack of understanding from others. Although both ways of dying are considered unnatural, their implications for bereaved partners vary considerably. We propose looking beyond the dichotomy of PAD versus suicide when studying grief following the intentional death of people suffering from a mental disorder, and considering other important aspects, such as expectedness of the death, suffering during it, and partners’ presence during the death.

M. C. Snijdewind; J. de Keijser; G. Casteelen; P. A. Boelen and G. E. Smid | 2022
In: BMC Psychiatry ; ISSN: 1471-244X | 22 | July | 454
Affected Populations, Assisted Suicide, Bereavement, Death by Suicide, Death of Partner, Effects, Family Members, Mental health, Mental Illness, Methodology, Netherlands, Partners, Physician-Assisted Dying (PAD), Physicians, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychiatric Disorders, Psychosocial impact, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Quality of Life, Research, Research Participation, Statistical Analysis, Traumatic Grief