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Supporting those bereaved by suicide

September 4, 2023
Tracie Burgess

Just so you know, this article includes content that some people may find upsetting.

Talking about suicide is never comfortable and that doesn’t change when you know someone who’s taken their own life. Suicide can have an impact on family, friends and colleagues; it can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with no matter what the relationship people had with the person. For each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected by the loss.

Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th of September, we wanted to share some advice on how to help those who are bereaved by suicide. Although it’s an important day for spreading awareness and hope, it can also be a difficult and distressing time for those who have lost someone, and they may need extra support.

How suicide survivors might feel

When someone dies by suicide, the people left behind can experience complicated grief. In addition to the more common emotions associated with losing someone, like sadness and shock, there might also be feelings of guilt, shame and anger, towards the person for taking their own life or towards themselves for not having prevented it. Going through these intense and conflicting emotions can be isolating and lonely (advice on how to address loneliness here).

Suicide is a traumatic event for everyone who was close with the person. If someone was witness to a suicide or has been told the details of what happened, this can also be distressing and they may experience PTSD symptoms, like nightmares or flashbacks. They may also have thoughts of suicide themselves when they have not before.

Moving forward after losing someone to suicide is difficult. There will be moments when those bereaved can enjoy their lives, but other times when everything feels overwhelming. It’s important to stay connected with family and friends; talking about their grief can be really helpful in order for them to make sense of what’s happened.

If you’ve recently lost someone to suicide and you’re struggling with your mental health or having thoughts about suicide, it’s important to reach out for support. You can contact your GP to find out about treatment options, or, in the case of a mental health emergency, you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Remember, you’re not alone.  

How to support someone who is bereaved by suicide  

  1. Let them know you’re there
    If you know someone who is bereaved by suicide, finding the right words to say can be difficult but it is helpful to contact the person as you would with any other loss. Even if they’re in shock and aren’t ready to talk yet, just knowing that people are thinking about them can be comforting.
  2. Listen and accept their feelings
    Suicide survivors tend to go through a rollercoaster of emotions, from despair to anger. When they’re ready to talk, give them the space to open up and just listen to them. They may say some things that are out of character or need to repeat themselves to process their thoughts. Rather than trying to distract them, disagree with them or move the conversation along, give them time to work through their feelings as this will benefit them in the long run.  
  3. Be mindful of your language
    When talking to someone who is bereaved by suicide, the language that you use is important. The term ‘committed suicide’ insinuates that a crime has taken place, so it’s better to use the phrases ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took their own life’.  
  4. Include them as you usually would
    When a person is grieving, we may assume that they want to be left alone or that they need a break from socialising. However, this can make suicide survivors feel even more isolated. Make sure that you include the person as you usually would - even if they say no, they will probably be glad to have the option of being around people.

Where to find support:

ieso offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for a range of mental health issues. To find out more about our online service, visit our website.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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