Caring for and supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be challenging.
Many feel unable to provide adequate support and struggle to understand the depth of distress. Some have difficulty in knowing what to say or do and feel awkward, uncomfortable and concerned about saying the wrong thing. Others worry about what the bereaved person is saying or doing and whether it is normal. The stigma attached to suicide can make this even harder.
It is helpful to gather information and learn what you can about grief and bereavement following suicide.
At a glance
- The support of friends and family can make a real difference to a bereaved person's capacity to manage the experience.
- What has been learned from bereaved people is that they need compassion, empathy, acknowledgement of what has happened and validation of how they are feeling.
- It is good to offer practical and emotional support during this time.
- To support a grieving person you need to maintain your own wellbeing.
Many people bereaved by suicide feel alone and isolated. The silence that surrounds the issue of suicide can complicate the experience. Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, people feel the pain of the loss, yet may not believe they are allowed to express it.
We know that the support of friends and family can make a real difference to the bereaved person's capacity to manage the experience. Maintaining a strong social support network is important. Grief is challenging and a network of friends and family can make it much easier.
Don't be surprised or alarmed by the intensity of their feelings. They may be overwhelmed by intense feelings of grief often when they least expect it. Intense feelings can come in waves and knowing that each wave will subside can make it easier to provide support.
Accept that they may be struggling with troubling and sometimes conflicting emotions (such as guilt, fear, blame, anger, regret and shame), well beyond what they will have experienced previously.
Bereaved people need compassion, empathy, recognition of what has happened, validation of how they are feeling and reassurance that their feelings are common, given the tragic circumstances.
- to be really listened to, heard and understood
- receive non-judgmental support
- an opportunity to tell their story over and over again
- a safe and supportive environment
- to be able to express their grief in their own way
- to have no time limits imposed.
Many people feel awkward and nervous when first spending time with a suicide bereaved person. It may take some time to manage your own feelings and learn how to respond. It is okay to feel awkward but you don't need to let it prevent you showing support and offering assistance.
The content in this section was developed by Support After Suicide program of Jesuit Social Services and has been reproduced/adapted in partnership with beyondblue and Jesuit Social Services.