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Dec 6

Survivors of Suicide and How to Help

When someone commits suicide, at least 6 people feel intimate trauma. Even more people like extended family, peers, fellow students or coworkers, and acquaintances may suffer from the loss of a loved one to suicide. This is all too common in our world, and often comes with heavy, difficult-to-bear feelings, including guilt. This is because we still have a tendency to view suicide as the “fault” of someone else, like family members. Or, we don’t know how to help and avoid the situation, leaving those people to grieve alone. Either way, society has cast a shadow on suicide and left their loved ones without the compassion we usually give the families and friends of others.

The Survivors of Suicide

Those who have lost a loved one to suicide might experience:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Shame
  • Stress
  • Guilt or self-blame
  • Anxiety
  • Despair
  • Numbness
  • Abandonment

These kinds of emotion require handling carefully, and may occur at any stage of grief or simultaneously. Part of this comes from trying to make sense of the reasons behind a suicide. It’s important to understand that suicide comes from an attempt to end pain. But that doesn’t make it easier to handle for those close to the decendent afterwards.

The grieving period varies from person to person, but it can be a very long time. For these people, their lives don’t revert to a prior state; they have to adjust to a new lifestyle.

How to Help

You can help heal those who have survived suicide and fight the social stigma.

  • First of all, listen. Be there when you are needed. You also may not always know what to say, and that is all right. Sometimes, a survivor only needs an ear or just your presence.
  • Acknowledge the death. It’s okay to talk about it if the grieving family/friends are willing to. Use the decedent’s name when you do so.
  • Ask how you can help, and if you can help. The ones grieving may not be ready to discuss their loss or to lean on others yet.
  • Don’t try to lead them through their grief. In other words, don’t rush them and try to get them back to where you think they should be. They will handle it in their own time. This also applies to letting them talk at their pace. They’ll open up when they are ready.
  • Unless you too have experienced the effects of suicide close-up, don’t try to convince the grieving person that you “know how they feel.” Chances are, you don’t, and this attempt to empathize can come across as false.
  • Let the survivors express their grief however they need to.

How to Help Yourself

If you are a survivor of suicide loss, you can help yourself as well as rely on others.

  • Don’t blame yourself. Society can cast a lot of blame, but you don’t have to accept it. Hold on tight to the truth that this was not your fault or your choice.
  • Grieve how you want and don’t set a time limit for yourself. Grief is different for everyone, and you may grieve for a longer or shorter time than others.
  • Mark your loved one’s milestones, if you are ready to do so. Prepare for these dates like birthdays, family holidays, and how you will handle them with your family.
  • Connect with others who have gone through something similar. You can get mutual support from these groups and heal.
  • Give yourself permission to laugh, cry, remember, and/or get professional help if you need it.

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