LEADING INNOVATION IN SUICIDE PREVENTION

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SUPPORT SOMEONE WHO'S LOST A LOVED ONE TO SUICIDE

Because suicide is so daunting, mysterious and often unexpected, support systems of people bereaved by suicide often experience a “deer-in-the-headlights” response and find they don’t know what to do. Because of their own fear and misperceptions, loved ones of families grieving suicide sometimes pull away or say or do things that cause further pain.

Not everyone grieves the same way, but often what people need most when processing loss of all types is a listening ear, unconditional love, and a space to honor their loved one. Whatever you usually do when supporting another’s grief – start there. Whether its sending sympathy cards, bringing chicken soup to the home, or stitching a memory quilt – you can provide people bereaved by suicide the same types of comfort and remembrance support you do when loved ones have died from cancer or car accidents.

Do’s and Don’ts

Some helpful suggestions when supporting someone bereaved by suicide.

 

Do’s

Don’ts

Offer practical assistance – walk the dog, sort the mail, get the kids to school

Offer clichés or hollow platitudes like “he’s in a better place” or “time heals all wounds”

Be present and willing to listen

Become an investigator (e.g., “was there a note?”)

Be patient. The survivor might need to tell the story again and again. Repetition can be healing.

Say, “I know how you feel”

Read up on suicide from reputable websites like the ones listed here.

Think you need to have all the answers.

Appreciate the intensity and complexity of suicide grief. Many mixed emotions may interfere with regular functioning for years.

Push the bereaved to talk.

Be mindful of forgotten survivors of loss – siblings, aunts/uncles/cousins, friends, etc.

Offer religious platitudes, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” or infer God’s judgment

Use the deceased’s name and ask survivor of loss to tell celebratory stories

 

Support the family and friends through anniversary dates and milestones

 

 

Support for Children

In the aftermath of suicide, children of all ages need to know that they will be safe and loved. As soon as caretakers have the news, children should be told in a place where both you and they will feel comfortable. Keep the suicide a secret out of fear usually leads to further betrayal and confusion. Explaining suicide to children is often unsettling for parents and caretakers, but many experts have given helpful guidelines to assist in the process. Most importantly, they stress the need to be honest with children and to explain the death at an appropriate developmental level.  Sometimes children believe that they caused the suicide, so caretakers need to reassure them that this was not the case but rather a it was the result of a problem with his brain.

 

Let children know they can come to you with questions or to express feelings of sadness, anger, or whatever they are going through, whenever they need to. Find ways to bring back familiar routines as soon as is feasible. Alert the school’s psychological service providers, and if possible, find a support group specifically for children bereaved by suicide, such as the one at Judi’s House in Colorado.

 

 

More resources for children bereaved by suicide: https://sites.google.com/a/personalgriefcoach.com/suicidegriefsupport/children-survivors