Support someone after a suicide loss

Supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be challenging. You might feel awkward and not know what to say. You might worry you’re saying the wrong thing.

The practical and emotional support of friends and family can make a real difference. Be compassionate, acknowledge what’s happened and how they’re feeling.

On this page we have information and resources to help you support someone after a suicide loss as well as look after your own wellbeing.

What grieving people need

People bereaved by suicide can feel alone and isolated because of the social stigma. They may feel the pain of the loss, yet believe they are not allowed to express it.

You can help by giving them a safe and supportive space to grieve. Offer practical and emotional support and help them to maintain a strong, social support network.

Safe, supportive spaces

Someone grieving a suicide loss needs a safe, supportive and non-judgemental space to:

  • be really listened to and heard
  • tell their story as many times as they need
  • express their grief in their own way and in their own time.

Strong, social support network

A strong social support network of friends and family can make a big difference. To help build and maintain a support network:

  • Contact the person when you hear of the death. Let them know you’re sorry for their loss or send a card or flowers. If you don’t know what to say, you can just write ‘thinking of you’.
  • Include children and young people in the grieving process and be aware that they need support.
  • Be aware of and acknowledge special times that might be significant and particularly difficult, such as holidays, anniversaries, birthdays.
  • Maintain contact personally or by telephone, text, notes, cards. Keep visits short unless you sense they might like you to stay longer.

Practical support

Many grieving people will find it difficult to ask for support and may also have difficulty making decisions or identifying ways you can assist. Check in to see what they need – but be proactive and pitch in too. 

Practical support could include:

  • offer to notify people of the death
  • help with tasks and chores - look after the kids, cook meals, do the washing, shopping
  • help to organise the funeral - create a guest lists, organise invitations, book a venue for the wake
  • financial support – help with funeral costs and any bills that are due.

Emotional support

Intense feelings of grief can come in waves and when you least expect it. Know that each wave will subside.

There is no ‘right way’ to grieve and doesn’t have a timeframe. Allow people to grieve in the way that is most natural and comfortable for them. 

The person you’re supporting may be struggling with new and sometimes conflicting emotions including guilt, fear, blame, anger, regret and shame.

Emotional support could include:

  • Listening without judgement - this is possibly the most important thing you can do.
  • Invite them to talk about the person who has died - mention the person's name, ask to see photos, share stories.
  • Accept their behaviour – crying, silence, anger, laughter.
  • Be patient - people may need to tell their story repeatedly. This helps them to come to terms with, and make sense of, what has happened.

What not to say to someone after a suicide loss

Take some time to manage your own feelings and learn how to respond before offering support.

Be truthful, honest and aware of your limitations. Acknowledge when you don't understand or know how to react to what they're going through.

Find the right words

The words we use to describe suicide have changed. For example, we don’t say ‘commit suicide’ anymore because suicide is no longer a crime.

Use these words to help reduce stigma:

  • died by suicide
  • suicided
  • took or ended their life

Avoid using these words:

  • committed suicide
  • successful suicide
  • completed suicide
  • failed attempt at suicide
  • unsuccessful suicide.

Avoid judgements and isolating statements

Don’t use clichés or platitudes. They rarely help and can leave the bereaved person feeling misunderstood and more isolated. For example, avoid saying:

  • You're so strong.
  • Time will heal.
  • They’re at peace now.

Don’t judge the person who died. People need to come to their own understanding about what’s happened. For example, avoid saying:

  • They were selfish, cowardly or weak.
  • They were brave or strong.

Avoid simplistic explanations for the suicide. Suicide is very complex and there are usually many contributing factors.

Learn about suicide - warning signs, risk factors and support options.

Overcoming grief - How my community helped me

"I was told we don't use the C word. We don't say commit suicide because people commit crimes, people commit burglary, and suicide is not a crime."

At 20, Sandi lost her brother to suicide. Hear her talk about the importance that language had in our podcast Not Alone.

Listen to Sandi's story

Support a child after a suicide loss

Children and young people have similar needs to adults after a suicide loss. They need a safe, supportive environment as well as emotional and practical support.

It’s also important to be as open and honest as you can be about what’s happening.

Honesty is important

Clear and honest communication reassures children that someone will take care of them physically and emotionally. It also creates a renewed sense of safety, security and trust.

It might be hard to talk about the death of a loved one following suicide without leaving some information out. Be aware that children may fill in the gaps with their imagination or half-truths they hear from others. This can lead to bigger issues, like anxiety.

Explain death

Most children will understand the concept of death by 9 years of age. Children who lose a loved one before 7 years of age may only have a partial understanding of death.

There are 3 important concepts to explain to a child about death:

  • Death is irreversible and final - it is not 'a trip' from which the person will return.
  • In death, life and body functions stop - the person is not asleep.
  • Death is inevitable - everyone will die eventually.

Practical support

Try to continue a regular routine and be consistent. Make time for regular activities and outings as soon as you can. It can also be helpful to:

  • involve the child in appropriate decision making and preparations
  • make time to share memories of the person that has died - create a memory book or journey, draw, paint, write stories, poems or collect photos
  • prepare for special occasions – birthdays, Mother's day, Father's day, start of school. 

Support to return to school

Meet with the child's teacher and talk about what has happened. Tell them what they need to know about the death and make plans to:

  • Tell the other kids at school - how and when will this happen? Give your child an opportunity to be involved in this decision.
  • Develop a support process with the teacher in case the child gets distressed – for example, call a parent or guardian or take the child to a quiet place in the school.
  • Check in with the teacher to talk about how the child is coping and extra support they might need.
  • Tell the teacher about any significant occasions that might upset the child – for example, anniversary of the death or their birthday.

Grief responses in children

To learn more about how children and adolescents understand, process and express their loss visit Griefline: Grief and loss for children and adolescents.

Support someone returning to work after a suicide loss

Try to be compassionate and offer flexibility and understanding. Have a realistic view of how long it takes to process a significant loss like suicide. Unrealistic expectations can create significant stress.

How employers can provide support

Everyone processes grief differently. Ask your employee what would be most helpful to them during this time. Support may include:

  • reduced workload or extra support
  • tolerance for short-term loss of efficiency and performance – it can be hard to concentrate and retain information when grieving
  • flexible work hours - your employee may want to work only half days or half weeks for a short period
  • extra breaks - your employee may get emotional during meetings or in front of colleagues. This is a normal part of grieving and to be expected. Let them know they can take a short break whenever they need to.

How colleagues can provide support


  • Understand what your co-worker is going through – learn about What grieving people need.
  • Give your colleague space and time without isolating them - invite them to lunch or coffee, but don't be pushy.
  • Check in regularly and ask how they're going.
  • Be aware of cultural differences.
  • Be yourself around them - treat them the same as you normally would.


  • Be surprised of their intense feelings of grief, often when they least expect it, including at work.
  • Overwhelm them with attention when they first come back – a simple 'welcome back' is enough.
  • Ask too many questions - if they want to talk about it with you, they will.
  • Try to “fix” things.

Look after yourself

To support a grieving person, you need to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing. Look after yourself and set limits as you need.

For information and resources visit Look after your wellbeing while supporting someone else.

Learn more

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