Helping a Friend Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide

It is often hard to know what to say to a friend who has lost a loved one to suicide. Though you cannot make the pain go away, your support can be key to helping your friend through this difficult loss. There are many ways to help. Listed below are a few strategies that may be useful when supporting your friend:

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What Should You Consider Before You Send Condolences to Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide?

If someone you know has experienced suicide, they may be suffering through a profound loss coupled with feelings of confusion and disbelief. They may not ever fully understand their loved one’s choice in ending their life and might be experiencing feelings of shame, regret, and self-blame. Survivors left behind after suicide may also feel deeply ashamed and not ready to publicly admit the suicide death of their loved one.

Give them space and time to come to terms with their loss being careful not to avoid them altogether. They may need privacy to work out their feelings and to accept the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death.

You may also want to consider any cultural, religious, or spiritual differences that may affect your friend’s response to suicide. This might have a great impact on how someone responds to this type of loss, the information they’re willing to share publicly, and the way they grieve. Another factor to consider is that your friend may not be ready to give the details of their loved one’s death or answer any questions.

What to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide

It’s important not to treat suicide as any different from other types of losses. Treat your friend or loved one as you would any other person who is grieving a tremendous loss. Death by suicide doesn’t make suffering the loss of a loved one any less painful. Your loved one may be experiencing more acute levels of pain because of what might appear to be the senselessness of this type of death.

When offering your condolences, there shouldn’t be anything weird or different about how you express your sympathy. Follow the ordinary customs and traditions associated with a death, such as attending the funeral or memorial service, as usual. Send flowers, give a condolence gift, or send condolences online , through text, or in person.

1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

The expression of this simple sentiment applies to anyone who has suffered a significant loss. This is appropriate condolence to offer after the death of a loved one. The manner of death needn’t make a difference when offering sincere sympathy for a friend’s loss.

Your loved one has suffered a tremendous setback and deserves the same love and support you would offer to anyone under any other circumstance. Not showing the most fundamental expression of condolences can further stigmatize death by suicide and may leave your friend or loved one feeling shunned and ashamed.

2. “Losing [insert their loved one’s name] must be so hard for you and your family. They will be forever loved and missed.”

There should never be a reason for you to avoid mentioning the deceased by their first name regardless of how they’ve died. Using their first name honors the relationship to the survivors and lets them know that you support them during this challenging time in their lives.

3. “How are you doing?”

People who’ve experienced the death of a loved one by suicide often look at others’ reactions to determine who they can count on for support. Another way of expressing your condolences is by asking your friend or loved one directly about how they’re doing.

This sends a clear message that the topic of suicide is not off-limits for you and that you’re comfortable in talking about their loss and how they’re feeling. Having someone to talk to can be very comforting and healing to someone who thinks their loved one’s death is stigmatized or otherwise shameful.

4. “I’ll always be here to love and support you.”

Sending a clear message that you’ll always be there for your loved ones lets them know that they can count on you when times get tough in their grieving journey. They may not yet be ready to accept your help and support as they may still be struggling with taking in what’s happened. However, they are sure to remember the generosity of your words when they’re ready to talk about their loss.

5. “This news is shocking to us all. I’m here for you whenever you need to talk.”

Expressing condolences by mirroring how a bereaved person’s feeling is another way of showing your support and understanding following a suicide. When expressing sympathy, it’s essential to keep from sounding judgmental or making any assumptions about the manner of death.

How to help someone grieve a suicide

While it’s normal to feel awkward about consoling someone who’s grieving a suicide, don’t let that prevent you from giving your support. People who lose someone to suicide often feel stigmatized and isolated. They may fear others criticizing, blaming, or judging them or their loved one, so it’s important to reach out early.

Don’t feel that you have to provide answers, give advice, or say all the right things. Rather, it’s your love, compassion, and caring presence that counts. It’s also important to be there for the long haul. While everyone grieves for different lengths of time, someone mourning a suicide will need your support long after the funeral is over.

While the pain of suicide loss may lessen over time, it will probably never fully pass. Be mindful of birthdays, anniversaries, and other times that may be especially hard for the bereaved person. Let them know that you’re there to help them cope with each new wave of pain and grief.

Do’s and Don’ts of Supporting Someone Grieving a Suicide
Accept that you may feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about suicide. You can even admit that you don’t know what to say or do. Just don’t let your discomfort prevent you from reaching out.
Invite the person to talk about the loved one they’ve lost or to share memories—if that’s what they want to do. The important thing is to be there, whether the person needs a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear.
Understand that they may have many strong and conflicting emotions at this time. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or behave after a loss to suicide—so allow the person to express their pain and loss without judgement.
Offer to help with practical tasks, such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, notifying others of the death, or helping with funeral arrangements, for example.
When talking about the person’s death, use terms such as “died by suicide,” “took their life,” or “chose to end their life.”
Use the term “committed suicide”. This implies that suicide is a criminal act and will only reinforce the stigma and make the grieving person feel more isolated.
Make judgements about the person who died or label them as selfish, weak, or crazy, for example. Suicide is the result of extreme emotional distress, not a character defect.
Demand an explanation or speculate on the reasons why the person took their own life. Your role is to be supportive, not interrogate the person grieving. Listen, and allow them to direct the conversation.
Issue platitudes such as “they’re at peace now” or “they’re in a better place.” Such hollow reassurances rarely provide comfort and can even alienate the grieving person, making them feel more alone.
Lose patience. Someone grieving a suicide may need to talk about their loss over and over again without fear of interruption or judgement. Talking over the same points can help them come to terms with what happened.

Tal Young, Ilanit, Alana Iglewicz, Danielle Glorioso, Nicole Lanouette, Kathryn Seay, Manjusha Ilapakurti, and Sidney Zisook. “Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 14, no. 2 (June 2012): 177–86.

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