Experiencing trauma

Grief is not the only experience that people bereaved by suicide face. Many people also suffer the impact of trauma. 

Trauma is an experience that is emotionally painful, distressing, or shocking, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects. Some people will have found the person who died and will usually be affected by trauma. But those who have not found the person but heard details about the event may also be traumatised by the death.

At a glance
  • Trauma can be caused by witnessing disturbing and horrific scenes but can also occur for those not present, when they are told about what happened.
  • A person's mind and body may react to trauma over a period of time, perhaps days, weeks or months. As with grief, people react to trauma in different ways.
  • Reassure yourself that the traumatic event is over, that you are safe now, and that seeing mental images of the events is common and will decrease over time.
  • It is important not to go through this experience alone. Grief is difficult enough by itself but when there is also trauma it is better to seek support.

Definition of trauma

The word trauma derives from the Greek word for wound. Melbourne psychologist and trauma expert Dr Rob Gordon writes: we can define psychic trauma as an experience with such intensity or meaning as to injure the psychic apparatus-the mental, physical, and social systems that provide the framework for psychic life.1

The suicide of a loved one certainly falls into this meaning for many people. It is an event of such intensity as to seriously wound a person's sense of themselves, their value and worth, their world view and their sense of safety in the world.

Trauma is caused by witnessing disturbing and horrific scenes but can also occur for those not present, when they are told about what happened. The experience of trauma is a reaction to these traumatic events.

As trauma is different to grief, trauma and grief may be experienced either alternately or at the same time. It is possible that the combination of trauma and grief may intensify the reactions they have in common. Sometimes, the impact of the trauma must be addressed before bereavement can begin to make progress.


1. For a full list of references for the statistics on this page, and any others across the website, please visit the references page and search through the relevant category.

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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