Dealing with whether or not to talk about the suicide is ultimately a personal decision. You may find that talking about this gives others permission to be open about their own family’s mental health challenges and/or loved ones who have died by suicide. This connection can reduce the isolation and stigma that suicide survivors often encounter. It can also afford you access to more support services and avoid rumor and speculation. You may also find that talking about the suicide death is too painful, too intrusive or too personal. Talking about your loved one’s suicide may make you feel shame, guilty or embarrassed. The stigma around suicide is so devastating that you may feel you don’t have a choice to talk about it. Many survivors find that the answers they give change over time once the healing journey has begun.
Should I tell young children about suicide loss?
This is one of those tough questions that you are likely to need to consider. It is a very personal decision for a lot of loss survivors. What you tell young kids may depend on your religious and cultural beliefs, the age of the children, and other factors. Most experts agree that telling kids in terms they will understand providing age appropriate answers is the best way to handle this question. The reasons are varied but the common ones are:
- Children deserve to be told the truth. Hiding the truth can backfire. Even young children use social media and they may see posts that don’t make sense to them. They may overhear other parents, family members or teachers talk about the death as a suicide. This can cause the child to feel betrayed and may need to grieve the loss all over again.
- Some studies suggest that 90% of suicide deaths have an underlying mental health and/or substance use challenge. Since mental health can be genetic, sharing accurate information about these issue and suicide gives children accurate information and opens the door to discuss these issues as a family.
- Talking to children in an age appropriate way allows you and them to talk about suicide in an honest way and lets them know it’s ok to come to you to talk about this. Be open and honest also can stop hurtful speculation or unfounded guesses about what has happened.
- Talking about suicide does not put the idea in someone’s head. Talking openly about mental health and suicide can help people talk about it openly and encourages people to talk about it and ask for help when needed.
- When talking with a child about suicide, it is Ok to use the words, “died by suicide” or “took their own life”. For younger children, we might tell them that their family member had an illness that affected their brain, confusing their thinking which led them to do something that ended their life.
Some loss survivors find reading social media posts comforting and some don’t. As a place to memorialize a person, it can be comforting. But because there is no control over what people post, it can sometimes be hurtful or spiteful or a place that others who are vulnerable reach out for help.
- Sites can be deactivated or placed on memorial status when requested by next of kin.
- Recognize that social media can be a place for the community to stay connected.
- If you find that people are reaching out for help, you may want to consider posting the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Number– 988.
- Ask a family member or friend to monitor the social media site.
Most suicide deaths occur in the home. Should you need a service to help, below are a couple of resources. Often times, this service will be covered under homeowners/renters insurance.
Aftermath Trauma Cleaning and Biohazard Removal Specialists
Suggestions for Supporting a Survivor of Suicide Loss
- Be there for your friend/family member and be available to listen – regardless of how long it takes.
- Surround them with as much love and understanding as you can while giving them some private time.
- When you see them in the grocery store, at church, at work – say hello and give them a hug. Don’t ignore them because you’re uncomfortable. This can make the survivor feel invisible and isolated. Acknowledge what a horrible tragedy your friend/family member has been through.
- Let them be who they have become. People are changed by a suicide death.
- Be objective and non-judgmental. Because of the stigma of suicide, you may not be comfortable or knowledgeable about suicide. Educate yourself and overcome any preconceived ideas you have about suicide and suicide victims so that you are able to be there for your friend/family member. Don’t let your own sense of helplessness or lack of understanding keep you from reaching out to your friend/family member.
- Be patient without giving advice. Be empathetic without moralizing or preaching.
- Allow your friend to grieve in their own way and in their own time. Encourage them to be gentle with themselves.
- Use the deceased’s name. This can be comforting to the survivor.
- Be aware that your friend/family member will have ups and downs. This does not mean they aren’t healing.
- Reassure your friend/family member that whatever they are feeling is normal. Also let them know that it is OK to laugh or remember something that makes them smile.
- If you tell them to call you if they need anything at any time, make sure you are prepared to do just that.
- Call your friend/family member and tell them that you will take them to lunch next Tuesday at 12:00 or that you will take the kids for two hours on Friday. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. They have just suffered a huge trauma; they really can’t think about what they need or don’t need. Reach out with a definite plan.
- Keep reaching out to them. Survivor’s grief lasts a long time, possibly years. A phone call once in a while, a card sent in the mail as a reminder that you care, a meal dropped off at their home all tell the survivor that you care and that you are still there for them.
- Try to remember them during the holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. These can be especially difficult times.
- Try to encourage your friend/family member not to make any major decisions immediately after a suicide death.
- Allow your friend/family member to cry, experience setbacks, or get help if they feel they need to.
- Let them know they will get through this. Be honest with them. Their life will never be the same again, but they can survive and find meaning in life again. When ready, you may suggest support groups, talking with clergy, a professional, etc.
- Encourage your friend/family member to remember who the person was, not the way they died. Help them remember what a wonderful person he/she was and their many attributes.
- Expect that your friend/family member will be tired. Grieving takes a great deal of energy.
- Encourage your friend/family member to take care of him/herself. Grief can have physical side effects so it is important to make sure they are eating right, sleeping enough, drinking water, exercising, etc. They may find comfort in journaling, reading, yoga, going for walks, or listening to music.
- Realize that suicide grief is complicated. Try to avoid clichés, such as time heals, you’ll feel better in a month, I know how you feel, etc. Try not to presume to know when they should “be over” their grief. Think about how you would be feeling and acting if this happened to you and try to act the way you would want your friends to treat you.
- Remind them that they are not alone and that there is hope.
- Remind your friend/family member that grief can appear in physical symptoms, i.e., headaches, stomach problems, etc. Encourage them to see a doctor for a physical. Encourage them to practice self-care.
- Respect the survivors’ decision about whether or not to be open about the death being a suicide.
- Be mindful that some survivors may actually experience relief at their loved one’s death. This does not necessarily mean they didn’t love the person.
- Make an effort to comfort all survivors, particularly children. Sometimes the focus is on the parents or the wife/husband when, in fact, many others are suffering as well.
- Don’t make decisions for the survivors. For example, you may think it best to get rid of the deceased’s belongings but the survivor may not.
- If the survivors have an affiliation with a religious person, see if they would like you to reach out to the clergy. This can bring a lot of comfort or help answer some questions for the survivor.
- Provide resources for the survivors. Oftentimes, they don’t know where to go for help.
Prepared by the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, 430 North Canal Street, Lawrence, MA 01840 Visit Website