Suicide Survivors

(Survivor: Someone who was close to an individual lost to suicide)

If a loved one passes away from suicide, you may feel shocked, sad, heartbroken and/or full of questions about why they did it. We are very sorry for your loss, and we’d like to offer our deepest condolences to you. Don’t forget to take good care of yourself.

Talking to a suicide victim’s family

Some survivors have never talked about their feelings to others in the aftermath of a suicide for fear of being discriminated, or even frightening people. Many people choose to remain silent when interacting with survivors, not wanting to bring up the tragedy for fear of saying the wrong things.

Please remember that you could have made a big impact, regardless of whether you took action or not.

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep calm
  1. Show your care and support. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Let them cry if they want.
    “I notice that you seem to be upset about something. Do you want to share with me?”
    “I may not be able to help you on this, but I’m willing to listen and accompany you in seeking proper help.”
  1. Openly express your care for them and accept their feelings or perspectives
    Put yourself in their shoes. Try to empathize with them.
    Don’t be judgmental. By doing this, it will help them feel accepted and cared for and to prevent any self-resentment they may feel.
    Avoid saying things like “At least they will not suffer anymore.”
  1. Physical Presence
    Ask their family or friends to show support by physically being there with them.
  1. Seek help from the professionals
    You may find it difficult to understand what they have said, or you may worry that you cannot resolve the situation alone. Be straightforward and express your difficulties in handling the situation, and tell them that you are willing to accompany them in seeking professional help.
    For example: “As much as I want to help, there’s only so much I can do. I’m really worried about you and can help you to seek professional helps. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you to them and will be here to support you.”

Normal and natural reactions to grief

There are no rules, restrictions or “time schedules” for grieving. Everyone grieves differently.

Possible Signs of Grief
Physical Muscle tension, increased respiration and heart rate, migraine/headache, insomnia, nightmares, loss of appetite, loss of vitality, fatigue, etc.
Cognitive Difficulty concentration, denial of truth, indecision, forgetfulness, suicidal thoughts, etc.
Emotional Shock, fear, helplessness, guilt, anger, despair, denial, feeling of abandonment, etc.
Social & Behavioral Withdrawal from social life, lack of communication with others, loss of self-control, talking to oneself, etc.

Helping children or teenagers to grieve

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Encourage them to express their feelings. Crying is one of the healthy ways to express their feelings. Do not force them to talk to you.
  • Validate their responses to loss (refer to the above table – Possible Signs of Grief)
  • Be honest and tell them the truth. Don’t lie to them.
  • Use simple, clear language when talking about death
  • Many children have insomnia during the grieving process. Parents or caregivers should show more care to them before bedtime.
  • Don’t forget you are also grieving. Self-care is equally important.

For more information on normal reactions to loss; how to talk to survivors; the relationship between mental illness and suicide and more, please refer to the Handbook for Survivors of Suicide