The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over a million people die at their own hands each year. A suicide is not only a tragic loss of a life, but it leaves the survivors gasping, prostrate with grief and unanswered questions.
Read more about suicide.
Read more about suicide survivors.
Read about the common motivations behind a suicide.
In addition to the shocking, tragic loss of a suicide, survivors of suicide face many social stigmas. Suicide survivors suffer in many, many ways: someone they loved dearly has died, usually in a shocking unexpected way, the death may be considered a taboo for others. The grief surrounding a suicide is compounded by a society that is unable to fully feel and understand the pain of their grief.
Suicide survivors suffer a unique kind of pain - here are some ways to help a suicide survivor heal from their tragic loss.
How To Cope With A Loved One's Suicide:
If you are reading this because you are trying to cope with a loved one's suicide, let me tell you that I am so very sorry for your loss. Here are some tips for learning to survive a suicide.
One of the biggest challenges a suicide survivor faces is the struggle to answer, "why?" Here is a guide to understand the most common motivations behind a suicide.
Deal with the facts of the suicide - the "hows" and the "whys" of a suicide can help alleviate any doubts that the death was, indeed, a suicide.
Grief is as unique as the person who experiences it - your grief will be different than anyone else's.
Don't compare your grieving process to someone else's. We all grieve differently.
It's okay to grieve - grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide means that you loved, you really loved, this person.
It's also okay to heal. Don't let your healing process be overshadowed by guilt for "not grieving enough."
You may experience physical complaints (insomnia, headaches, exhaustion) that are brought about by your emotions. Talk to your general doctor about these symptoms and see what can be alleviated.
Cry if you want to cry. Don't be afraid to let it out. And if you don't or can't cry? That's okay too. Everyone grieves differently.
You will struggle with the "why" of a suicide until you've gotten your answer, an answer that makes sense to you, or no longer need to know why.
You might feel crazy as you run the gamut of feelings - anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness, those are all very common reactions. You're not going nuts - you're grieving a very difficult loss.
It's okay to feel overwhelmed by your feelings.
Find at least one person who gives you the permission to grieve and lean on them.
Remember that you can postpone grief, but you can't outrun it. If you're living with unresolved grief, it becomes harder and harder to cope with other every day stresses. Let your grief out. Although it may be tempting, don't throw yourself into work or other projects as a means to avoid your grief. You must deal with your grief.
Now is the time to let others know that you need help. Chances are, many people are simply unsure of how to help you. Tell them what you need, even if it's someone to make a run to the store for you or throw in a load of laundry.
Don't be too proud to ask for help.
Don't withdraw from the world. Keep in touch with other people - friends, family, spiritual leaders. Use them for support, comfort, and healing.
Surround yourself with people who will listen when you need to talk and those who simply offer a shoulder if you'd rather be silent.
Prepare yourself for anniversary reactions - holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other significant dates will be very painful reminders for you and can amplify your sense of loss.
On those special days, don't force yourself to do or be anything. Allow yourself to do whatever it is you feel like doing - if that's dumping an old family tradition because it's too painful? So be it.
There will be setbacks - some days, months, and years will be better and worse than others. That's okay. Grief and grieving doesn't follow a straight line.
Find a support group in the area for suicide survivors. There can be a lot of strength in knowing that others have experienced a suicide as well. In a support group for suicide survivors, you can share your story, learn other coping techniques, and lean on one another for support.
Commemorate your loved one in a tangible way. Plant a tree. Dedicate a bench. Plant a garden. Create a scrapbook of memories. Put together a shadow box for the wall. These are things that can help you to feel connected to your loved one.
Write it out. Take some time to write a post for The Band about the suicide.
Keep a private journal and make writing in it a priority. Writing is one of the most effective forms of therapy.
Don't abuse alcohol or prescription drugs as a means to cope. In the end, it will only hurt you.
Don't concentrate all your energy on comforting others reeling from the suicide - it may be your way of avoiding the grief.
Be prepared for others to say cruel and thoughtless things to you about the suicide - they may be lashing out in grief.
It may feel like it, but not everyone is blaming you for the suicide.
The old way of thinking was that suicide should be hushed up, never discussed; but it's come to light that this is a bad way to handle a suicide. Talk about the suicide. Talk about your feelings.
Guilt. It sucks. Talk about your feelings of guilt with someone you love and trust.
The suicide is not your fault. You will probably feel that you could've done something more to prevent it, but that's not the case. You cannot assume responsibility for the actions of another. PERIOD.
Forgive yourself - the suicide is not your fault. You couldn't prevent it.
Try setting up a picture of your lost loved one and talk to it. It may help to articulate all of the things you'd wished you could say to the person.
Depression is very common in suicide survivors. If you find it to be prolonged or particularly hard to deal with, seek professional help. Learn more about depression here.
Know when you can no longer manage on your own - and seek professional help. Trained grief experts are available to help you learn to cope with the grief.
Let the anger out. There's lots of anger surrounding a suicide and it has to go somewhere. Chop wood. Scream. Hit a punching bag. Punch a pillow.
Take your grief one day, one second, one moment at a time.
You didn't have a choice or any control over the suicide, but you DO have the choice to live through the aftermath. Choose to live.
How To Help A Suicide Survivor Heal:
When a loved one loses someone from suicide, you want so badly to help, but it's so hard to know what to do. Here are some tips for helping to comfort a suicide survivor.
Make a special effort to go to the funeral home. The shock, denial, and shame are overwhelming for the suicide survivors. They need all the support they can get.
Suicide survivors may be a bit more paranoid due to the guilt associated with a suicide. The guilt is only increased by noting that certain people did not attend the funeral of their loved one. If you cannot attend the funeral, make an effort to send flowers, a note, a text, an email, ANYTHING, to let them know you're thinking of them.
You may not know what to say to a suicide survivor at the funeral - simply treat the death as you would any other death, "I'm so very sorry for your loss."
Don't be afraid to cry openly if you were close to the person who died. Often, your tears will help the suicide survivors see that they are not alone in their grief.
The grief following a suicide is extremely complex. Survivors of suicide don't simply "get over" their loss. Instead, they can hope to reconcile themselves to face the reality.
Don't be surprised or alarmed by the range and intensity of their feelings - grief can sneak up on a suicide survivor and overwhelm them with their intense feelings when least expected.
Survivors of suicide may struggle with extreme explosive emotions - guilt, shame, and fear - much more so than any other type of death.
Be patient with and understanding of the feelings of your loved one as he or she grieves the suicide.
Helping a suicide survivor means that you must break down the silence surrounding the death - it begins with being an active listener.
Being physically present and willing to listen without judgment is critical for your friend. Being able and willing to listen is the best way to allow your loved one to just talk.
The feelings and thoughts a suicide survivor may feel can be very scary and hard to acknowledge. Worry less about what you say and concentrate on the words your loved one shares.
Often, suicide survivors want to share the same story again and again. Listen attentively each time. This repetition is part of the suicide survivor's healing process.
Remember: you don't have to have the answer to help your loved one.
Allow suicide survivors to talk, but don't push them.
Survivors of suicide need help to come to an understanding of the reason their loved one suicided - this is extremely important for those who survive a suicide.
Give your loved one permission to express his or her feelings about the suicide without fearing criticism.
Tears are a natural and appropriate reaction to the pain associated with a suicide - don't be afraid of the tears.
Remember that not everyone who grieves will cry - everyone expresses their feelings differently.
Grief is not restricted to a certain time-table.
Respect the need for a suicide survivor and their family to grieve. The grief of family members of someone who has suicided may be kept a secret. If the suicide cannot be openly discussed, the grief may go unhealed.
You may be the only one willing to listen and talk to the suicide survivors - you are more important than you know.
Know that the grief of a suicide is unique and that no two people will react the same way.
Anniversaries and holidays may be especially hard for a suicide survivor - these dates emphasize the absence of someone who is no longer alive.
Pain is a part of the normal grieving process - you cannot (and shouldn't try) to take it away from a suicide survivor.
Use the name of the person who has died when talking to suicide survivors - using his or her name can be comforting and reminds the grieving survivors that you haven't forgotten this important person.
Support groups for survivors of suicide can be one of the best ways for suicide survivors to heal. In a support group, suicide survivors can connect with others who have experienced the same type of loss and share their stories. You can help by locating a support group for suicide survivors for your loved one.
Let your loved one teach you about their feelings of faith and spirituality. They may believe that those who die by suicide are doomed to hell. Rather than contradict them, just listen and learn, non-judgmentally.
Survivors of suicide struggle to know why their loved one suicided - if they ask you, "why?" simply say, "I don't know - maybe I'll never know."
Be aware that the guilt for a suicide survivor is often so painful that it's sometims easier to deny that it happened - be patient and understanding of this. Denial can give the suicide survivor a breather before the reality sinks back in.
Suicide survivors have the right to be extra sensitive - often others will deliberately avoid the survivor, pretend not to know the person, or ignore any type of contact made. This compounds the guilt the suicide survivor already feels.
People will often make cruel, vicious remarks to a suicide survivor - this hurts the survivor intensely. Don't repeat the remarks and do what you can to go to the source to let them know that their words hurt the suicide survivor.
How Not To Help A Suicide Survivor:
Sometimes, without meaning to, we can hurt those we care about the most by saying something inappropriate. Nowhere is this more common than following the death of someone by suicide.
Here are some things to avoid saying to a suicide survivor.
Cliches and other trite comments are often more wounding than saying nothing at all. Cliches often diminish the loss by giving simple solutions to very hard realities. Avoid them.
Things NOT To Say To A Suicide Survivor:
"You're holding up so well."
"Time heals all wounds."
"You'll get over it in time."
"Think of what you have to be thankful for."
"You have to be strong for your children (or others)."
"Well, he (or she) was crazy."
"I know just how you feel."
"Snap out of it."
Avoid passing judgment or providing simple reasons for the suicide.
Don't allude to the mental state of the person who suicided - you don't know if this person was "crazy" or "mentally ill," and it further complicates the feeling of the suicide survivor.
The grief of a suicide survivor is unique - don't criticize what you think of as "inappropriate" behavior.
Learn more about grief and grieving here.
Don't try to comfort the suicide survivor by saying, "it was a terrible accident." The suicide survivor must deal with the fact that their loss was due to a suicide.
Don't compare your grief about other deaths to your loved one - the grief of a suicide is very different than most other types of deaths.
Don't tell stories to suicide survivors about your friend or someone else you know who tried to commit suicide, which means you totally understand how they feel. Whomever you knew who attempted suicide lived, theirs did not.
Don't go over the signs of suicide with a suicide survivor, as the suicide has already taken place. Saying things like, "there must have been some signs of depression," only compounds the suicide survivor's guilt.
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