How To Support Survivors of Suicide Loss: A Guide to Being There in the Aftermath
Every year in the US, about 1 million people are directly impacted by the suicide of someone close to them. These individuals become survivors of suicide loss, a term that refers to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. This sudden loss often leaves survivors in a state of shock, confusion, and deep-seated grief, as they grapple with a host of complex and overwhelming emotions.
Understanding the needs and struggles of these loss survivors is essential in providing them with appropriate support, both in the short and long term. In this article, we offer guidance on how to navigate this painful situation, providing comfort and companionship to suicide loss survivors.
The Emotional Aftermath of Suicide Loss
Suicide loss can thrust survivors into a state of immense grief, often compounded by feelings of guilt, anger, and shame. They may experience a unique type of mourning known as complicated grief, characterized by debilitating sorrow and difficulty in resuming their everyday lives.
Survivors may also grapple with the stigma associated with suicide, which can make the grieving process even more challenging. This can lead to isolation, as they may feel reluctant to discuss their loss due to societal judgments and misconceptions about suicide.
Because of these muddled and complex feelings, and the societal tendency to shy away from suicide, one of the most important things you can do to help a survivor of suicide loss is to listen. Listen actively, without judgment, criticism, or prejudice. Let them share on their own timing and with their own discretion. Remember to be patient and to take a back seat; do not impose your own ideas about grief. Their experience is personal and unique, and you are there to support them, not shepherd them.
Here are some ways you can support a suicide loss survivor, now and later.
Providing Short-Term Support to Suicide Loss Survivors
In the initial aftermath of a suicide, survivors need tangible, immediate support. Here are a few ways you can help:
- Be present: Simply being there, offering a shoulder to cry on, or listening to them express their feelings can be enormously helpful. Avoid passing judgment or offering solutions. Instead, let them know you’re there for them no matter what.
- Offer practical assistance: Helping with daily chores, meals, childcare, or even administrative tasks related to the death can alleviate some of their immediate stress.
- Encourage professional help: Encourage survivors to seek support from mental health professionals or suicide loss support groups, who can provide therapies and/or support specifically tailored to handle the complexities of suicide grief.
Long-Term Support for Survivors of Suicide Loss
Providing long-term support is equally critical, as the grieving process is often extended, lasting months or years. Here’s how you can be there for survivors in the long run:
- Maintain regular contact: Stay connected beyond the initial period of loss. Regularly check in, reminding them that they are not alone in their grief and that you are still there for them.
- Acknowledge anniversaries and milestones: The deceased individual’s birthday, the anniversary of the death, or other significant dates can be particularly challenging. Reach out during these times.
- Promote open communication: Continue to encourage open discussions about their feelings, and ensure they feel heard and validated.
- Support self-care: Remind them of the importance of self-care. This can include ensuring they get adequate sleep and exercise, eat healthily, and take time for activities they enjoy.
- Facilitate access to support groups: Encourage them to join support groups for survivors of suicide loss. These offer a safe space to share experiences and feel understood by others who have been through similar situations.
- Say their name: Speak the person’s name out loud, at the level you, and their person is comfortable with. Too often speaking of someone we lost may be avoided due to concern it will upset their loved one. Share stories, remember them, and engage in ways that honor their memory.
Advocating for Suicide Loss Survivors
Supporting survivors of suicide loss is not just a personal obligation. It is also about advocating for societal and systemic changes to improve support for those grieving suicide loss. This can include promoting suicide awareness, fighting stigma associated with mental health concerns, and lobbying for better access to mental health services. Support suicide prevention, research, and advocacy by donating today!
Suicide loss is a deeply personal and devastating experience. It is essential that we, as a society, step up to provide the necessary support to those left behind. By offering a helping hand, a listening ear, and an understanding heart, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by suicide loss.
The American Association of Suicidology is the world’s largest and nation’s oldest membership-based suicide prevention organization. Founded in 1968 by Edwin S. Shneidman, PhD, AAS promotes the research of suicide and its prevention, public awareness programs, public education and training for professionals and volunteers. The membership of AAS includes mental health and public health professionals, researchers, suicide prevention and crisis intervention centers, school districts, crisis center professionals, survivors of suicide loss, attempt survivors, and a variety of laypersons who have an interest in suicide prevention. Learn more about AAS at www.suicidology.org.
Responsible reporting on suicide, including stories of hope and resilience, can prevent more suicides and open the door for help for those in need. Visit the Media as Partners in Suicide Prevention: Suicide Reporting Recommendations for more details. For additional information, visit SuicideReportingToolkit.com and Stanford University’s Media and Mental Health Initiative. For crisis services anywhere in the world, please visit FindAHelpline.org and in the continental United States chat, text or call 988.Donate today to support AAS’ mission to promote the understanding and prevention of suicide and support those who have been affected by it.