We are sorry about the death of your friend or family member. The shock and pain experienced by friends and family following the suicide of a loved one can seem almost unbearable. It is important for you to know that you are not alone. Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults aged 24-34. Over 44,000 individuals in the United States take their own life each year (confirmed suicide deaths). Cumulatively, this amounts to hundreds of thousands of individuals who have experienced firsthand what you are going through right now.
When an individual takes his or her own life, the people they leave behind are often referred to as survivors of suicide. Survivors may be family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, clinicians, first responders, community members or anyone else impacted by a suicide death. Each individual situation is different.
The days and weeks immediately following a suicide are often the most difficult. Below are links to information and resources for survivors. Our hope is that you will use these resources to guide you through some of the difficult days ahead.
Grieving Process for Survivors of Suicide – Coping with Suicide Loss Grief
The grieving process for the family and friends (survivors) of someone who dies by suicide is complex and complicated. As with any sudden death, it is completely unexpected and there is not time to say goodbye. The fact that the individual took their own life increases the range of emotion and the intensity of the grieving process. Most people initially feel shock and numbness, which is part of the grieving process. It is important to recognize that grieving is a very individual process and different people grieve in different ways and at different times. Religious and cultural beliefs may also impact the grieving process.
While the grief and loss may be most intense immediately following the death, it should be expected that the grieving process will continue for an extended period of time. Combined with stigma and the secrecy typically associated with suicide, the physical and emotional toll it can take on a survivor is enormous. The grief process for a survivor of a suicide is measured in months and years rather than days and weeks. A few other key points to remember are:
- Be non-judgmental and gentle with each other. We all grieve in different ways.
- Don’t blame anyone (including yourself) for the individual’s death.
- The grieving process takes months and years (not days and weeks).
- Severe grief can sometimes cause depression. Check with your doctor or primary care provider if the severity of the grief/depression lingers.
- Accept the help and support of family and friends. Ask for help if you are having difficulty coping.
- Be your brother/sister’s keeper and watch out for who is not doing well and who may need additional support (make sure they get it).
- Take any threat of suicide (even joking statements or comments like “I wish I were dead”) seriously and get the person help (see Warning Signs for more information).
- If you are having thoughts of harming or killing yourself, tell someone and ask for help.
- Do not memorialize the person by only talking about all the positive things about them without also acknowledging that they were ill or made a very bad decision in taking their own life.
- Anticipate birthdays, holidays and anniversary dates and realize these will be times when you can benefit from extra supports.
Writing An Obituary After Suicide Loss
After a suicide death, one of the first big decisions a family will make is what to include in an obituary. Historically, suicide was never mentioned as the cause of death in an obituary (unless it was a very public person). More recently, some families have chosen to mention that the person died by suicide. In some situations, the cause and manner of death may take weeks to be officially determined and the family may not have this information. The decision whether or not to disclose the information in an obituary is a personal one that each family will make on their own. Cultural and religious beliefs may impact the decision that the family makes.
If the family chooses not to disclose the death as a suicide:
Avoid using euphemisms such as “died after a brief illness” or “died as a result of an accident.” Making no statement about the cause of death is better than stating something misleading. Be aware that if the cause and manner of death have been determined by the Medical Examiner they are a matter of public record and can be accessed by media or others who request the death certificate. Not openly disclosing the cause of death sometimes forces friends and family to “pretend” the death was not a suicide when it may be obvious (or known) to others involved. Families who choose not to disclose the death as a suicide isolate themselves from the support of other people who have survived the suicide of a loved one.
Stating outright that the individual died by suicide will do the following:
- Immediately end all the rumors and innuendo that often accompany an untimely death – especially the death of a teen or young adult;
- Allow friends and families who are also suicide survivors to come forward and provide support from their own personal experience;
- Allow mental health counselors and others to begin postvention activities that may help prevent suicide contagion/reduce the possibility of future suicides;
- Assist in reducing the stigma associated with suicide.
Some obituaries reflect on the person’s struggles with mental illness with statements such as “She died after a courageous battle with depression”
If disclosing privately to other individuals that the death was a suicide, it is OK to mention how (e.g. used a gun, hanging), but state it simply and avoid providing specific/graphic details.
The family may wish to establish a memorial fund for donations which can be used to offset the costs of the funeral services. Whether the family chooses to disclose that the death was by suicide or not, the family may wish to identify a mental health organization or suicide prevention organization as a recipient of any donations.
Making Funeral Arrangements
Most families are totally unprepared emotionally, as well as financially to bury one of their members. When it is the death of a young person, many families feel pressured to “do the right thing” by providing a full funeral service even when they have no ability to afford the expense involved. Trying to make these decisions when you are in intense shock and grief is obviously extremely difficult.
Ask a trusted friend or relative to accompany you when you must make these decisions. Talk with your clergy or funeral director about all the different options available to you. Be aware that there are lower cost alternatives such as cremation or using a personal container rather than a coffin. One option may be to establish a “memorial fund” for the individual. Donations can then be used to offset the costs of the funeral. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has a 60 page booklet with financial tips for surviving suicide.
Remember that friends and family are there to support you in your decisions, not judge you. Do what works best for you and your family.
In the aftermath of a suicide, one of the most challenging aspects for families, survivors, schools, and communities is planning a memorial service for the deceased. The memorial service can be a highly emotional event that has the potential for either increasing or decreasing the possibility of suicide contagion. Suicide contagion can occur when events (such as memorial services and media coverage) glorify the life or sensationalize the death of the individual. This increases the risk factors for youth who are depressed, troubled, or at increased risk for suicide.
Media reports and memorial services are two of the biggest factors that contribute to suicide contagion. It is a human tendency to overstate the positive qualities of the deceased while at the same time minimizing or even ignoring less positive attributes, particularly their decision to take their own life. Yet this inclination can increase the risk level of suicide for survivors by glorifying the life and death of the deceased. There may be a number of different viewpoints about what type of services or memorial to have. How to respect the wishes of grieving and emotional family, friends, or others while balancing the need to reduce possible contagion can be a very difficult task.
The National Safe Messaging Guidelines provide best practices on how to communicate about suicide safely
For more information on Connect protocols for memorial services, please contact us directly.
Compassionate Friends – provides mutual support for parents who have experienced the death of a child (by any means). Their website offers information about grieving, local chapters/support groups and other links. 1(877) 969-0010
Victims Inc. – provides individuals who are specially trained to assist survivors of a sudden and traumatic death. They are sometimes able to provide immediate in-home support (especially in the Rochester/Seacoast area) to families dealing with the suicide of a loved one. They also sponsor a weekend overnight grief camp for children ages 6-15 in Rochester called Camp Purple Parachute. (603) 335-7777
Concord Regional Visiting Nurses Association provide grief support and education groups for adults who have had a recent loss. The groups are free, but are limited to 12 participants and require pre-registration.
NAMI New Hampshire ~ Information and Referral services (800) 242-6264 or (603) 225-5359.
How to Talk to Childen and Youth
The US Department of Veteran Affairs has developed a series of fact sheets on how to talk to children and youth in different age groups about a suicide attempt in your family. These facts sheets are available below.
Resources for a Suicide in the Workplace
A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace from the American Association of Suicidology and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Internet Support Groups for Suicide Loss
Griefnet ~ http://griefnet.org/support/sg2.html (offers adult and child support)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ~ Online support group listing
- American Association of Suicidology www.suicidology.org
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov
- Friends for Survival www.friendsforsurvival.org
- The Gift of Keith www.thegiftofkeith.org
- Grief After Suicide Blog – http://www.personalgriefcoach.info/index.html
- GriefNet (on-line support group) www.griefnet.org
- Heartbeats www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org
- How to Report Suicidal Users on Facebook
- International Association for Suicide Prevention www.iasp.info
- Means Matter – Harvard School of Public Health www.meansmatter.org
- National Alliance for Suicide Prevention www.AllianceforSuicidePrevention.org
- National Alliance on Mental Illiness (NAMI) www.nami.org
- National Alliance on Mental Illiness New Hampshire (NAMI NH) www.naminh.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Resources of Military and Veterans www.taps.org
- SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) www.save.org
- Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN USA) www.spanusa.org
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) –www.sprc.org
- Surgeon General’s National Strategy Report www.samhsa.gov/prevention/suicide.aspx
- Survivors Road to Healing www.road2healing.com
- World Health Organization www.who.int/topics/suicide
Connect does not endorse, warrant, guarantee or represent the information or views of other organizations and/or websites linked above.
The NH Survivor Resource Packet is provided to the next-of-kin of all people who die by suicide in New Hampshire through the Office of the Medical Examiner. This program was developed through a collaborative effort of the Office of the Medical Examiner, NH Survivors, NAMI NH, and the Bureau of Behavioral Health. Please click on the links below to access the various documents included in the resource packet.
- Cover Letter from the Chief Medical Examiner and a NH suicide survivor
- Resources for Survivors
- You Are Not Alone – Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors by Iris Bolton
- Book Resources for Survivors
- We Remember Them – an anonymous poem
- Children’s Reaction to Sibling’s Death
- Helping Your Grieving Child
- Talking to Children About Suicide
- Coping With Suicide Loss – Handling the Holidays
- NH Survivor of Suicide Loss Newsletter – includes the most recent Suvivor of Suicide Loss Calendar of Events
- Grief Support Groups for Survivor of Suicide Loss
- NH Community Mental Health Centers
- NAMI New Hampshire