Trauma after a suicide loss
Many people grieving the loss of someone to suicide also experience trauma.
You might experience trauma if you:
- found the person who took their life
- have been affected by hearing the details of a friend or family member’s suicide.
What does trauma look like?
People react to trauma in different ways. Your mind and body may react to trauma immediately or over days, weeks, months or even years.
Trauma can be emotionally painful, distressing and shocking. It can result in temporary or ongoing mental and physical health concerns.
We’ve listed some common thoughts, feelings and behaviours people experience.
Trauma can make you:
- easily startled
- irritable or restless
- increase your use of alcohol and drugs
- withdraw from others and lose interest in social activities
- avoid places or situations that remind you of the suicide.
Trauma after a suicide loss can make you feel:
- more anxious, including having panic attacks
- troubled or distressed when exposed to traumatic news or events
- abandoned, isolated or powerless
- depressed, sad or numb
- guilty, angry, fearful or frustrated.
Trauma can cause:
- irrational worry about others
- recurring thoughts or dreams of the death
- being absorbed by what’s happened, continually asking, 'Why?'
- confused or slowed thinking
- difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions.
Trauma can affect your body. Physical symptoms of trauma can include:
- tiredness, fatigue and changes in sleep patterns.
- headaches or muscle aches
- digestive problems – for example, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea or a change in appetite
- breathing difficulties
- heart palpitations, trembling or sudden sweating.
These reactions can be distressing but you can learn to manage them.
How do I recover from trauma?
Acknowledging you’ve experienced a traumatic event is helpful to your recovery. Give yourself time to recover, spend time alone and with others and look after your physical health.
Give yourself time to recover
You don’t have to be in control of your life straight away. Try to:
- go back to your normal routine and return to work only when you feel you are able. See also on this page: Returning to work after a suicide loss.
- avoid making major life decisions until you feel better. Making smaller, day-to-day decisions can help restore your sense of control and improve your confidence.
- take care when driving, cooking or doing things that require concentration. Trauma can affect your concentration and ability to focus.
Spend time alone and with others
- Allow yourself time to be alone to process your reactions.
- If you’re feeling lonely, isolated or your mood is not improving, try spending time with friends or family.
- Express your thoughts and feelings in ways that feel natural to you – talking to friends and family, writing down thoughts or listening to music.
Look after your physical health
- Try calming activities like mindfulness, meditation or simply resting. This can help if you’re having trouble sleeping, working or getting things done.
- Take care of your body – eat healthy, stay hydrated and go for a walk. Exercise can help burn stressful energy and calm your body.
- Be aware of your alcohol, drugs (prescription or recreational) and caffeine consumption. These can interfere with the recovery process and cause more problems later on.