This blog post mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to be connected to trained crisis counselors.
Suicide is a tragic event—and it often has a ripple effect on friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and others who knew the person who died.
Every year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we honor those we’ve lost to suicide and the friends and family members who loved them. International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a day designated by Congress, is a day for those affected by suicide to come together for healing and support.
If you’ve experienced a suicide-related loss, you’re not alone. Data show that one suicide impacts 135 people. As many as 40-50% of the population have been exposed to suicide in their lifetime.
Those exposed to suicide have experienced trauma and could use mental support.
"Grief can result in very complicated emotional, physical, and psychological responses," says Rachael Jasperson, the Zero Suicide program manager at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. "There is no ‘right’ way to grieve. People often feel shame or anger toward themselves for not experiencing what they are ‘supposed’ to. This self-criticism can often complicate the grieving process."
How suicide loss impacts survivors’ mental health
When someone loses a loved one to suicide, not only do they experience grief from the loss, but they often face a lot of unknowns and further self-criticism about what they could have done to prevent the death, Jasperson says.
"Those who experience suicide loss sometimes feel betrayed, relieved, or angry," Jasperson says. "All of these intense emotions have the potential to contribute to mental health struggles. This may manifest as depression, anxiety, insomnia, or just overall mood instability. These are normal responses to overwhelming emotions."
How to support survivors of suicide loss
If someone you know is affected by suicide, remember to be kind, non-judgmental, and open-hearted. Here are a few tips to help you create space for healing:
- Listen. "Be present, and don’t try and fix their grief," Jasperson says. "Don’t put time limits or expectations on them about what you think their grieving process should be. Understand that there will be a spectrum of emotions, many of which you may not understand or agree with. Their grief is not your grief, and you need to love them through their process."
- Opt for simple sympathies. Speaking to someone who’s experienced a loss to suicide can seem tricky, but often all a person needs to hear is, "I’m here for you." You don’t need to offer advice, analyze why the person died, or push for information.
- Show up. Community can be a key factor in healing collective trauma. If you know someone recovering from a loss, bring them dinner one night or offer to run some errands for them. Knowing that they can lean on a friend will ease the loneliness that often accompanies grief. On a similar note: If you’re recovering from loss, try to reach out when you feel alone. Confide with a close friend or have dinner with a family member.
- Share your memories. Speaking about someone who has died can be difficult years after they pass—but exchanging happy memories can be healing for some people. When in doubt, follow the survivor’s lead. If they want to talk about the person they lost, offer a story of the person that makes you smile.
Grieving looks different for everyone, and it’s rarely linear. Recovering from a suicide loss will take time, but help is available. Jasperson says reaching out is key for survivors.
"Stay connected with others and share your feelings," Jasperson says. "There are a number of support resources available for people who have lost someone to suicide, including AFSP and Caring Connections. Allow yourself permission to feel grief in whatever way is yours. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve. Allow yourself time to grieve. Try and avoid harshly judging yourself based on your grief response."
If those difficult emotions begin to impact your daily life, reach out for professional support.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to be connected to trained crisis counselors. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Access is available through every landline, cell phone, and voice-over-internet device in the United States.