Every death brings sadness and grief to family and friends. When a suicide death occurs, other emotions and feelings may come into play. The people who are left behind, the survivors, struggle to understand why this happened. Many revisit the final days, searching for clues.
In 2010 (the most recent data available) 38,364 suicide deaths were reported – one every 13.7 minutes – making it the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Yet suicide is often poorly understood, and surrounded by stigma. There is a tendency to look for someone to blame for the tragedy – whether that is the person who died or someone they knew. At least ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time, most often major depression.
Talking openly and honestly with children about death is always recommended, and that is no different when suicide is the cause. It’s important to explain the suicide to children and teens truthfully, while providing loving reassurance, and encouraging their questions. Use simple, direct language.
Be prepared to talk about the suicide often during the first days and weeks, and throughout the child’s life. Fostering a relationship with open communication allows children to express their fears and process the death.
After someone they love dies from suicide, children may feel
- Abandoned – that somehow the person who died didn't love them
- Worried or afraid other important people in their life will die, or that they will die
- Worried about who will take care of them
- Guilty – that somehow they caused the death by their thoughts or behavior
- Confused, embarrassed, lonely
- Angry with the person who died, the people left behind, or angry with God
You can help by
- Understanding suicide is not a crime, is not selfish, or a sign of weakness.
Suicide is an act of desperation by someone in intense pain.
- Avoiding comments like “at least his suffering is over.”
- Celebrating the life of the person who died by talking about good memories and stories about the deceased.
Happy memories are an important part of the healing process.
- Allowing children to cry as often and as long as they want.
- Remembering each child is a unique individual and expresses himself differently.
- Being patient and loving.
- Understanding the pain will never go away completely.
Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors. Connecting with others who share the experience, being able to tell your story as often as needed, in an environment of caring and acceptance can be an important part of the grief journey. This is as important for adults as it is for children and teens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Violence Prevention/Suicide www.cdc.gov
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support, www.suicide.org
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, www.save.org
Survivors of Suicide, www. survivorsofsuicide.com
The Dougy Center, www.dougy.org
Understanding Your Suicide Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, by Alan D. Wolfelt PhD
But I Didn’t Say Goodbye, by Barbara Rubel
Finding Peace Without All The Pieces: After A loved One’s Suicide, by LaRita Archibald
Someone I Love Died by Suicide: A Story for Child Survivors and Those Who Care for Them, by Doreen Cammarate, Michael Ives Volk, and Leela Accetta