How to Help a Friend or Loved One Through a Loss from Suicide: Guest Blog by Steve Johnson

This post is written by Steve Johnson who co-created PublicHealthLibrary.Org with a fellow pre-med student.  While the topic of suicide is difficult, suicide is a sudden unexpected death that leaves family members and friends left behind needing help.

How to Help a Friend or Loved One Through a Loss from Suicide

There are many startling statistics about suicide. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans in 2012 with 40,600 suicides reported in that year. This means that a life was lost to suicide every 13 minutes in the United States. Such a number shows how much of an issue this actually is.

The impacts of suicide extend beyond the individual who chooses it; it affects their loved ones in many ways. In addition to the grief, loved ones also feel guilty, thinking that they should have done more to prevent the death. It’s a difficult situation that requires help and coping.

The Shock of Suicide

Suicide is an unexpected and shocking tragedy. As with any sudden death, It is difficult to know how any one person will take such a loss.

It is also difficult for those left behind when death leaves loved ones with a myriad of unanswered questions.

There are different reactions that the majority of individuals will go through. They may feel tremendous guilt that they did not recognize warning signs, such as an alcohol or substance abuse problem and they could blame themselves for not doing more to help their loved one cope with whatever struggles they were facing.

Many who have lost someone to suicide may at some point question their faith, their religion, and/or their spiritual beliefs. Most will go through levels of strong emotions including anger, sadness, and often depression.

People grieving from a loss to suicide often report feeling a “hole.” They feel as though something is missing – a common experience for anyone going through such a time. The survivor will often go through post-traumatic stress as well. They may always ask, “Why?” Unfortunately, that is a question they may truly never have an answer to.

Due to the stigma of suicide, it may be hard for the survivors to talk about it. However, survivors often find that there is a bond between themselves and others who have gone through the same sort of loss. This is one of the reasons support groups work so well for many people.

Grieving the Loss

One way to help someone who has lost a loved one suddenly is to be there for them. You can listen to them, share memories, and just be present. Letting your friend or family member know that you are there to help with anything is an important way to show you care. Whether it’s helping with groceries, handling funeral plans, or helping out with other tasks, these simple gestures often relieve a bigger burden than you realize.

It is best for people who have experienced this kind of loss to talk with a professional. While they may resist the idea initially, therapy can be tremendously beneficial for overcoming the overwhelming grief and sadness experienced by survivors. You can help by researching and finding a good licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Go a step further and drive them to an appointment and wait with them.

Another way to help someone when they’re grieving is to refer them to one of the many helpful support groups located in your area or online. These support groups provide so many resources and helpful information to assist people through the grieving process. One excellent support group is HEARTBEAT which stands for:

  • Healthy coping techniques
  • Empathy and understanding
    reinforced by
  • Acceptance without judgement and affirmation of self-worth
  • Resolution of conflict and reinvestment in life
  • Truth…responsibility for this death must be allowed to rest with the one who made the choice

For those wishing to pursue further goals

  • Be a “reach out” to new survivors
  • Effect public prevention education
  • Acknowledgement of suicide as a health problem of considerable proportion within our community
  • Transforming our recovery into positive action that will diminish the number of these deaths

Reading the stories of other suicide survivors is a way to feel a bond with others, and to realize that other people are going through lots of the same things. They will be able to get some advice and see what they may face in the future.  Very importantly, they will know that what they are feeling is okay and normal.

The Future

You may feel helpless at times, like there is no way to support someone experiencing a loss to suicide. However, there are multiple ways to show support. Below are more sources that can help:

Harvard Health Publications : Supporting Survivors of Suicide Loss

Helping a Suicide Survivor Heal

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admininstration (SAMHSA)

What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will or Trust?

Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.Org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. Steve continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website.

(Image via Pixabay by sofia2406)