Surviving Suicide - The Ripple Effect on Family and Community

Losing someone to suicide can be painful and devastating. The shock and stigma of such a sudden loss can be isolating and lonely. So many questions are left unanswered and those left behind may feel depressed in the wake of that loss. They may not understand why their loved one made a final choice and may even feel as if they hadn’t done all they could to prevent that loss.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nearly 40,000 Americans commit suicide each year. According to the American Association of Suicidology, there are at least six survivors — family members, friends, and co-workers — for every suicide.

How do you move forward when a part of you has died? It’s a “complicated process,” says Sue Wesner, RN, MSN, CNS, a bereavement specialist who serves as facilitator of the STAR-Center Survivors of Suicide groups for adults, adolescents, and children at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC.

“It is one of the hardest deaths for survivors because they may have feelings of guilt, constantly reviewing the ‘could haves, would haves, should haves’ as they search for understanding. Guilt is often part of grief, but with suicide, it’s even more intense,” she says.

Survivors need to know they are not alone and that their grief processes are normal. Attending a support group for survivors of suicide offers the opportunity to share their story or feelings with fellow survivors without pressure or fear of judgment and shame.

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Helping Survivors

  • Listen. Active listening can be the most helpful thing you can do for a suicide survivor.
  • Express sympathy. It’s OK if you don’t know what to say. A heartfelt, “I’m sorry for your loss,” is appropriate. Use the loved one’s name, instead of “he” or “she.”
  • Remember, the grief journey is personal and unique. Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.” Don’t share your own loss. Allow people time to grieve.
  • Find out about suicide survivor support groups. Encourage the survivor to attend meetings.

If you feel that someone you love may be battling depression or considering suicide, UPMC’s Behavioral and Mental Health Services and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic may be able to help. To schedule an appointment, please call 1-877-624-4100. For more urgent, crisis services for those in Allegheny County, please call the re:solve Crisis Network at 1-888-7-YOU-CAN.

About Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital provides high-quality, cutting-edge psychiatric and addiction services. We serve all ages of people at all stages of recovery. We provide diagnostic services and treatment for all types of psychiatric and mental health conditions. We serve more than 25,000 patients each year. Our hospital, in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, has more than 400 inpatient beds. Western Psychiatric partners academically with the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Together they conduct research and clinical trials.