How to help someone who is dealing with the suicide of a loved one

When someone you know commits suicide, you’re likely to find yourself on a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s incredibly tough facing such a huge loss, but there are things you can do to help you get through it, and there are people you can turn if you’re finding coping with grief and loss to be particularly difficult.

This can help if:

  • someone has committed suicide and you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is okay
  • you want to know how to deal with the loss of a loved one
  • you think you may need help handling your grief.

It’s normal to feel a lot of things, all at once

When you’re coping with the suicide of a loved one, it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions, such as:

Shock

“This can’t be happening.” Right after loss, it can be hard to accept what’s happened. You may feel numb or want to deny the truth. Shock can have a purpose: it protects you from the initial pain of the loss, helping you get through things.

Anger

“How could they do this to me?” You may feel angry with your loved one, yourself, or medical professionals who couldn’t help. It’s normal to feel angry. Try to talk it though and understand your feelings.

Confusion

“Why is this happening?” You may not understand why something so tragic has happened, and that’s okay. It’s hard, sometimes impossible, to comprehend why someone would choose to take their own life. It may be better to accept that you’ll never fully understand, instead of forcing yourself to come up with an answer that makes sense to you. Focus your energy on accepting and coping with your feelings.

Guilt

“Why didn’t I notice something was wrong?” Try not to criticise yourself about what you did or didn’t do – it’s not your fault. Feeling guilty is completely normal, because we often blame ourselves when things go wrong, but it’s not something to carry around with you. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel.

Despair

“I’m too sad to do anything” Loss from suicide is traumatic; allow yourself time to grieve. If you’re feeling especially down, your reaction is normal. Remember that there isn’t a typical response to loss; grieving is as individual as the people we’ve loved.

How do I work through this?

There are things you can do to make dealing with death easier:

Accept your feelings

People experience all kinds of emotions after a death, some you might not be able to predict, but they’re all valid. It’s okay to feel the things that you do.

Take care of yourself and your family

Eating well, exercising, and sleeping will help you get through each day and move forward. Taking it one day at a time and focusing on small tasks will make things easier to deal with. What may feel like an impossible situation now, will get better.

Reach out and help others deal with this loss

Sharing stories can help everyone cope, and helping others will have the benefit of making you feel better as well. Speak to the people in your life who are also grieving, or whom you can trust. Sharing your thoughts and feelings will help you feel less alone, and remind you that there are people out there who support you.

Remember and celebrate the life of your loved one

Honour your relationship in a way that feels right to you – perhaps you can plant a garden in their memory, donate to their favourite charity, or frame photos of fun times. Try and remember the best moments you shared together.

Getting professional help

It’s okay to admit that you need help. Sometimes the pain of a suicide can be too much to handle alone, and there are people who can help you. Mental health professionals are trained to help people like you deal with the grief, guilt, or anxiety associated with the death of a loved one.

You should contact a grief counsellor or professional therapist if you:

  • blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  • feel numb and disconnected for more than a few weeks
  • are unable to perform your normal daily activities.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try it to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to someone about what you’re feeling.
  • Get personalised support options for grief with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Find positive coping strategies.

Explore other topics

It’s not always easy to find the right place to start. Our ‘What’s on your mind?’ tool can help you explore what’s right for you.

If you have lost someone to suicide, the feelings can be overwhelming and can seem unmanageable. For survivors of suicide loss, there is no one way to best handle the tragedy of suicide, but there are tools available that can help you cope with your grief.

Help for Survivors

Thankfully, there are many resources designed specifically for those who have suffered a loss due to suicide. Below are a few to get you started. The following resources listed below can be used for yourself or can be shared with other survivors who are seeking assistance.

  • Grief After Suicide – This flyer provides coping strategies for people who have been touched by suicide.
  • Responding to Suicide Survivors – This flyer discusses appropriate and inappropriate ways to comfort suicide survivors.
  • Suicide Common Misconceptions – This flyer discusses common misconceptions regarding suicide, as well as facts and statistics about suicide that aid in creating awareness about suicide and suicidal ideation.
  • Suicide: Frequently Asked Question – This flyer discusses common questions about depression and suicide.
  • A comprehensive booklet on suicide grief: “Suicide: Coping with the Loss of a Friend or Loved One”
  • A wallet card for survivors of suicide loss: “After a Suicide: Coping with Your Grief”
  • Suicide Survivors:A Guide For Those Left Behind, a book for survivors by Adina Wrobleski, one of SAVE’s founders
  • Coping With Loss Book list
  • Find a Support Group
  • Honor a loved one. Learn more about our Named Memorial Fund
  • Join SAVE for our Annual Suicide Awareness Memorial
  • Almost two dozen SAVE events annually, through which survivors play a key role in supporting SAVE’s mission as they continue on their own healing journey.

How to help someone who is dealing with the suicide of a loved one

Dealing with the suicide of a loved one is one of the most complex and troublesome experiences you may ever have to face. When any family member or friend whom we love dies, questions are posed; when one deliberately takes his or her own life, the questions are insurmountable.

Why Suicide?

Statistics show that in the United States, 30,000 people die each year by suicide by means of:

  • Overdose of prescribed or over-the-counter medication or sleeping pills
  • Gun shot
  • Hanging
  • Asphyxiation, breathing in carbon monoxide
  • Jumping off tall buildings
  • Slitting wrists
  • Jumping in front of fast-moving vehicles

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Suicide, Depression and Mental Illness

According to the non-profit organization Suicide.org, the leading cause of suicide is due to untreated depression. Those suffering mental illness are also at a higher risk for taking their own lives. About 25 percent to 50 percent of bipolar patients will attempt suicide. Postpartum depression also poses a risk for suicide. Many mothers with newborns are overworked and lacking sleep. The feelings of slipping down a large hole and never getting out produce much fear and the line between what is real and what is not becomes blurred.

Society and Suicide

Often families of suicide victims feel stigmatized or cast out by the rest of society. In Europe during the 18th century, when one took his own life, his body was dragged through the streets. He was not given a proper burial and his family was forced to leave their home. The family was often ridiculed, blamed and shunned by the rest of the community.

When Your Loved One Dies by Suicide

If you find yourself dealing with the suicide of a loved one, know that some of your feelings may include:

  • Remorse
  • Blaming self
  • Anger toward self and toward the person who died
  • Guilt
  • Lack of control
  • Shame
  • Feeling rejected by friends
  • Fear
  • Hostility and frustration toward friends, family and self for not preventing the suicide

You must know that over time, you will realize that it was not your fault that your loved one made the decision to take his life. Read accounts of others who have lost a loved one in the same manner which you have to understand that life can go on for you. Join a suicide survivor’s group so that you can receive the support you need.

When a Friend’s Loved One Dies by Suicide

If your friend has lost a loved one by suicide, be a support to that person during this period of intense grief. The ways you can help your friend include:

  • Listening
  • Letting her talk about the death
  • Refusing to be judgmental
  • Offering to get her help via a support group
  • Paying tribute in memory of her loved one who died
  • Showing that you value her friendship and her as a person
  • Providing helpful literature and resources for her to read

When a Child Dies by Suicide

All parents feel guilt when their child dies, thinking they could have done something to prevent the death. Studies show that the parents of a child who died by suicide experience a higher degree of guilt because they feel they could have prevented the death had they been more aware of the psychological problems or clinical depression that led to the suicide. They feel they could have intervened and kept the child from taking his own life. Dealing with the suicide of a loved one is complicated, but when a child takes his own life, parents and society grieve more intensely at the loss of one so young.The reasons that cause many teens to contemplate suicide include:

  • Lack of friends
  • Struggles over self-worth
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Poor grades
  • Break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Bullying by peers or classmates
  • Difficult home life due to parents’ divorce and/or continual arguing
  • Questions regarding sexual orientation

Suicide Prevention Programs

Substance abuse, whether it be in the form of drugs or alcohol, can trigger one to kill oneself. Teens, who drink heavily or take drugs, are at a greater risk. Every school needs to have a suicide prevention program. Children, especially teens, need to have access to a phone number so that they can contract someone who can help when they feel overwhelmed and are contemplating suicide. 911 may always be called when a person feels he is suicidal.

Trying to help someone deal with a death is awkward and difficult and suicide is a million times worse matter. People who have lost loved ones not due to ordinary death, but something as painful and awful as suicide, don’t just have grief weighing on their shoulders – they are experiencing anger, guilt, confusion, shock, horror and trauma that goes beyond the “normal” after emotions of a death. They may not have known that their loved one was unhappy; they may be angry for being left behind; they may feel guilty and hate themselves for not being able to prevent it. The victims of suicide are not just limited to the people who committed it – suicide leaves a lifelong mark on all those who witnessed it.

Although that is a painful position to be in, someone who is trying to help somebody who has lost their loved one in this horrible way. Every person’s emotions and reactions are different, which is exactly what makes it so hard to comfort them. Should you talk it through with them, or try to take it off their mind? Should you reassure them, or try to avoid the subject? Should you let them cry, or try to make them heal? Helping someone who has lost a loved one through suicide is not only awkward and difficult like natural death, but also Write a Confusing Code , and at times, painful. However, it is not impossible. Here are the basic ways to support someone trying to cope with the suicide of a friend, family member or generally a loved one.

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If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are not alone. There are resources available to help survivors of suicide loss cope.

How To Take Care Of Yourself

A loved one’s suicide is a challenging, confusing, and painful experience. If you’re struggling, the Lifeline is always here to help.

Find a support group: You don’t have to cope with your loss alone. There are support groups specifically for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Do what feels right to you: Don’t feel pressured to talk right away. If you choose to discuss your loss, speaking can give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.

Write: You may find it helpful to write your feelings or to write a letter to your lost loved one. This can be a safe place for you to express some of the things you were not able to say before the death.

Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to let your friends provide support to you, or to look for resources in your community such as therapists, co-workers, or family members.

How to Help

Supporting someone who has lost a loved one can feel overwhelming and complex. There are ways to help.

Accept their feelings: Loss survivors grapple with complex feelings after the death of a loved one by suicide, such as fear, grief, shame, and anger. Accept their feelings and be compassionate and patient, and provide support without criticism.

Use sensitivity during holidays and anniversaries: Events may bring forth memories of the lost loved one, and emphasize this loved one’s absence.

Use the lost loved one’s name: Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors. This shows that you have not forgotten this important person, and can make it easier to discuss a subject that is often stigmatized.

There is the time-worn adage, “a witness to violence is a victim of violence.” Suicide is a form of self-inflicted violence and witnessing a suicide or finding someone after they have died, whether you know the person or not, can be very traumatic. You may have intense feelings and reactions-this is a normal response to an abnormal event.
People who have lost a loved one to suicide are typically referred to as “suicide loss survivors” or “survivors of suicide loss.” People who have witnessed a suicide death, have come upon the deceased’s body after the fact, or have heard or read graphic details regarding the death are called “witness survivors.”

Reactions to witnessing a suicide death may include but are not limited to:

shock, numbness, detachment,
sudden onset of physical symptoms
change in appetite or substance use
difficulty sleeping/nightmares
flashbacks/intrusive thoughts
preoccupation and distraction

depression and/or suicidal thoughts
confusion, irritability, guilt
hyper-vigilance or anxiety
isolating or compulsive behaviors
avoidance of the area
time feels distorted

Do you or someone you care about need help?

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to react to a trauma. While not everyone experiences symptoms, some people have symptoms that rise to the level of depression, intense anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress. If symptoms interfere with daily functioning, you may want to seek help for yourself or for someone you are concerned about. Help is available.

Resources

Mental Health Counselor: Request a trauma bereavement specialist at a private or community mental health center. A listing of NH Community Mental Health Centers can be found here.

Friends for Survival: 1-800-646-7322, leave message.

Victims Inc.: 603-335-7777 (NH Witness Survivors)

For information on how to support a loved one who is a witness survivor, please go to The Grief Toolbox

Please visit the Get Help page for additional telephone numbers and helping supports and resources. If you are suicidal or concerned about someone who you think may be suicidal dial 911 or 1-800-273-TALK.

“Witnessing a suicide, or discovering the body, whether it be a loved one or a stranger, leaves a picture in your mind that dims very slowly and never fully disappears. It is important to talk about what you have seen in the early days (with a qualified professional) when the impact is strong. The experience may be life changing.” Pat Rainboth, Victim’s Inc., NH

Development of resources for Witness Survivors in NH is a collaborative effort comprised of members from the NH witness survivor community, NAMI NH, the NH Bureau of Behavioral Health, and Victim’s Inc. The full article, “New Approaches To Helping The Witness To A Suicide: The Suicide Witness Survivor Outreach Program of NAMI New Hampshire”, can be found here.

How to help someone who is dealing with the suicide of a loved one

Stories like Meghan Markle’s are a poignant reminder that many people will struggle with suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 34. While that’s terrifying, there are steps you can take to look after your loved ones and friends. POPSUGAR asked two psychologists how to spot the warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide and what you can do to help.

Signs That Someone Is Struggling With Suicidal Ideation

“Sometimes a friend will tell you that they are considering suicide, and other times, changes in their behavior may let you know that they are struggling,” Fatima Watt, PsyD, director of behavioral health services at Franciscan Children’s in Massachusetts, told POPSUGAR. Watch for these potential red flags:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, or having no reason to live
  • Talking, writing, or drawing about suicide, even jokingly
  • Exploring ways to kill themselves, by doing research or gathering supplies
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol or other reckless behavior
  • Increased anxiety, agitation, or panic
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping
  • Giving away precious belongings

Nazanin Moali, PhD, owner of Oasis2Care in Los Angeles, added: “One of [the] major signs that someone is contemplating suicide is when they talk about death and how the lives of others will be different if they are not around. Some of the common themes for these individuals are feeling trapped and not being able to identify a sense of purpose.”

How to Help Someone Who’s Having Suicidal Thoughts

Dr. Watt stressed the importance of taking warning signs seriously and showing a friend or loved one empathy, even if you don’t completely understand what they’re going through. “Stressful events, such as a fight or breakup, may seem trivial, but to your friend, the pain can feel immense,” Dr. Watt said. Minimizing their pain, or dismissing their behavior as attention-seeking, can cause them to feel even more hopeless.

Start the conversation by reminding them how much you care about them. “Describe what you have been noticing and offer to be a listening ear. Sometimes, just knowing that others care may reduce the feeling of hopelessness and isolation,” Dr. Moali told POPSUGAR. She also recommends asking a friend directly if they’ve thought about ending their lives, adding that this question doesn’t “put the idea in their head” or increase the likelihood of them attempting suicide.

This next step is important if someone you love is, in fact, experiencing suicidal ideation: “Sympathize, but do not promise to keep it a secret,” Dr. Watt said.

Instead, take steps to ensure they get professional help. If the person is young, encourage them to reach out to a trusted adult, and give them the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. You can even help them set up an appointment with a therapist and offer to go with them to the first session if they want your support. “Remember that neither of you have to face this alone,” Dr. Watt said.

How to help someone who is dealing with the suicide of a loved oneWhen it was revealed that actor/comedian Robin Williams took his own life in early August 2014, millions of people were in shock. For Williams’ family, friends, and fans alike, the news was devastating, but perhaps one of the most startling realizations about the incident—despite Williams regularly appearing in front of people worldwide for nearly four decades—was that no one saw it coming.

The subject of suicide is often portrayed as taboo, making it an extremely difficult topic for many to discuss. But people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and physical capabilities are at risk for suicide. Suicide affects both the strong and the weak. It can touch anyone.

As family members, friends, and confidants, we have a responsibility to assist the people we care about. September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month, which presents an opportunity to learn as much as we can about this sensitive, yet urgent, issue. How can we discern if someone we love is having suicidal thoughts, and how can we take preventative action?

Where Do Suicidal Thoughts Come From?

For people who have never seriously contemplated ending their own lives, it is challenging to understand the mind-set of an individual with suicidal ideation. As the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, understanding where suicidal thoughts come from is necessary if we want to help individuals contemplating suicide.

Find a Therapist

People who are suicidal often do not know how to obtain help. While prolonged suffering is typical in suicide-related cases, it is important to remember that suicidal persons are not always merely trying to escape pain. Most genuinely believe that there is no good reason to continue living and that the world will be a better place without them.

Identifying Common Risk Factors for Suicide

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 90% of people who die by suicide are experiencing a mental health issue at the time of their deaths. Depression is one of the most common factors attached to suicidal ideation, but people who experience bipolar tendencies or other mood-altering conditions are also at higher risk. Psychosis, excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of mind-altering drugs are other factors which can increase impulsivity and heighten the risk of suicide.

The highest rates of suicide occur among adults between the ages of 45 and 64, followed closely by adults 85 and older. Children, too, can become suicidal; one in 65,000 children ages 10-14 dies by suicide each year in the U.S. Issues such as the death of a parent, divorce, bullying, sexual abuse, or social exclusion can increase the likelihood of suicide among preteens. The main concern in these cases is that parents and teachers often believe that young children will not attempt suicide.

Regarding the possibility of pre-adolescent suicide, Baez said, “I have seen children as young as six who attempt suicide—usually in an ineffective way at that age. However, the intent is there, and that’s what matters. That’s what we have to address.”

The Importance of Therapy in Suicide Prevention

Therapy is one of the best tools for suicide prevention. Mental health professionals usually approach the situation in one of two ways: by targeting the conditions underlying a person’s suicidal thoughts (depression, for example), or by targeting a person’s suicidal ideations directly.

Two prominent types of therapy for suicide prevention are dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Dialectical behavior therapy helps individuals make lifestyle changes that minimize suicidal thoughts and helps people maintain control over emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, meanwhile, teaches suicide prevention skills and encourages the application of learned skills even if the individual is in an activated state of suicidal ideation.

Suicide Prevention Strategies You Can Use

If a family member or friend expresses suicidal thoughts, do not ignore them. They might desperately need your help. Here are a few tactful steps you can take to help a loved one at risk for suicide:

  • Ask questions in a mild and sincere manner.
  • Explain why you are asking questions.
  • Express that your loved one is not alone. Tell them you are there for them and will continue to be there.
  • If the individual is not comfortable speaking with you, suggest a qualified third party such as a therapist, spiritual leader, or doctor.
  • Do not passively tell the person to just call a hotline; lead the person to helpful resources such as suicide hotlines and local mental health associations.
  • Help the person schedule and keep appointments with a mental health professional, even if the individual no longer feels suicidal.

With National Suicide Prevention Month in full swing, take full advantage of the many articles, seminars, webinars, and other programs on suicide prevention. Suicide can affect anyone, and being prepared can help save lives.