Supporting someone after a suicide loss

Supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be challenging.

Some supporters feel awkward, don’t know what to say, or worry they’re saying the wrong thing.

It can be 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.
Words of advice for support

"Best advice I can probably give for friends or colleagues or whatnot, is just not to walk away from that person...you just gotta stick in there"

What grieving people need
  • to be really listened to and heard
  • no judgement
  • an opportunity to tell their story as many times as they need
  • a safe and supportive environment
  • to express their grief in their own way
  • to have no time limits
Tips for providing support for someone who is grieving

People bereaved by suicide can feel alone and isolated because of the social stigma - they feel the pain of the loss, yet believe they are allowed to express it.

Tips for providing support:

  • A strong social support network of friends and family can make a big difference; 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; Intense feelings can come in waves, and when you least expect it. Know that each wave will subside.
  • Accept that they may be struggling with new and sometimes conflicting emotions: including guilt, fear, blame, anger, regret and shame.
  • Bereaved people need compassion, empathy, reassurance, recognition of what has happened, and validation of their feelings.

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.  We’ve listed some ideas for practical support below:

  • Offer to notify people of the death
  • Help with tasks and chores e.g. look after kids, cook meals, do the washing, shopping
  • Organise the funeral e.g. do a guest lists, organise invitations, venue for the wake
  • Financial considerations e.g. funeral payment, any bills that are due

Emotional support

Grief is an unpredictable beast and comes in many different forms.  Allow people to grieve in the way that is most natural and comfortable for them - there is no “right way” to grieve. 

Some ways you can provide emotional support:

  • 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’.
  • Maintain contact personally or by telephone, text, notes, cards. Keep visits short unless you sense they might like you to stay longer.
  • Listen: 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, being quiet, laughing. Allow expressions of anger, guilt and blame.
  • Be patient. People may need to tell their story repeatedly, without interruption or judgment. This helps them to come to terms with, and make sense of, what has happened.
  • 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 Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays.
  • Understand that grief doesn’t have a timeframe – it is unpredictable.
  • Try not to be surprised or alarmed by the intensity of feeling. Grief comes in waves and people can be overwhelmed when they least expect it.
What can I say

It's completely normal to feel awkward, uncomfortable or even unqualified to talk about suicide, but don’t let this stop you offering support. Take some time to manage your own feelings and learn how to respond before offering support.

Do:

  • 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.
  • Use more neutral terms like:
  • ▪Died by suicide
  • ▪Suicided
  • ▪Took their life
  • ▪Chose to end their life

Don’t:

  • Use the term 'committed' suicide: this language is stigmatising, it’s distressing for the grieving person and it harks back to when suicide was a crime.
  • Use clichés or platitudes to comfort; They rarely help and can leave the bereaved person feeling misunderstood and more isolated. This includes statements like:
    • "you're so strong",
    • "time will heal"
    • "they’re at peace now"
  • Avoid judgements about the person who died. Don’t say they were selfish, cowardly or weak, or even brave or strong. People need to come to their own understanding about what has happened.
Avoid simplistic explanations for the suicide. Suicide is very complex and there are usually many contributing factors. 
Looking after yourself

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

Help establish a support network with other family members or friends and develop a support system - so you can share the responsibility and prevent emotional burnout.

Some things you can do to manage your own mental health include:

  • Accept how you feel: you’re probably experiencing a range of feelings and these reactions are totally normal. Take time to examine your emotional needs and seek your own support if you need to.
  • Look after yourself: take time out to do things that you enjoy or bring you joy. This could be a hobby or simply watching a tv show you like. Make time for you.
  • Stay healthy: make sure you’re eating properly, getting some exercise and getting a healthy amount of sleep each night. If you need to create some barriers to ensure this is happening, then do so.
  • Provide support that works for you: don’t try to do everything for the person. Acknowledge to the person, and to yourself, when you can’t provide support.
Get more tips on looking after yourself

Some of the content in this section was developed by Support After Suicide program of Jesuit Social Services and has been reproduced / adapted in partnership with Jesuit Social Services.


Crisis support

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other services include:

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