When someone you know dies by suicide, it can leave more than a void in your life. The aftermath of a suicide can take a toll on your mental and physical health. During this challenging time, it’s important to process what you’re feeling.
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How to Cope After a Loss from Suicide
Dealing with grief is never easy. Learning to cope with what’s happened will take time. However, these tips can help you process and manage your grief.
Acknowledge and accept your emotions
There’s no right or wrong way to feel after you lose a family, friend, or someone you know to suicide. Along with symptoms of grief, you can also experience a range of unexpected emotions.
Common reactions to suicide loss are similar to responses of other traumatic loss and grief. These include despair, shock, denial, guilt, shame, anger, confusion, anxiety, numbness, and loneliness.
Talk about what you’re feeling
Despite increased awareness, suicide remains a taboo topic. As a result, many people can feel shame or guilt after a suicide loss. They may feel isolated and suffer in silence.
But talking about your loss can help you begin to heal and process your grief. Sharing your story and feelings with others may also help someone else going through the same type of loss, bringing awareness to suicide and loss from suicide.
Heal at your own pace, in your way
Everyone handles grief in different ways. What helps one person may not work for you. Losing someone close to you can affect many aspects of your life. It will take time for you to adjust to your new regular routines.
How quickly you return to every day life also very personal. Your timeline for healing will look different from someone else’s. It’s up to you when you’re ready to talk and share.
Grieving isn’t always a straight line. As you process your grief, some days may be easier than others. You may readjust to every day life for a time, and then something can trigger suicide grief, such as a birthday or anniversary. Holidays are also a trigger for many people going through grief and bereavement.
Take care of yourself
Grief can take a physical toll on you, too. But, by focusing on your physical and emotional health, you can give yourself the strength you need to keep moving forward.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating regular, healthy meals, and getting exercise. These are all things that can help regulate your mood. They can also help manage stress and depression and make sure your immune system stays strong.
Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope. Substance use will only mask what you’re feeling and can create new problems. It is important to process your emotions, rather than avoid them.
Write it out
To understand what you’re feeling, sometimes it can help to write it out Journaling can provide a safe space to explore and share your emotions.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends writing a letter to the one you lost to suicide. You can write what you wanted to say but didn’t have a chance to say. You can tell them how their suicide made you feel. Or you can tell them what you miss about them.
Reach out for support
Dealing with grief from suicide can feel lonely and isolating. Instead of keeping your grief to yourself, reach out to friends, family, and your community for support. Be specific about what you need. If someone offers to do something to help — such as making you a meal or helping you run errands — accept it. If you don’t feel comfortable accepting their offer, suggest something else you may need, such as picking up the kids from school.
Consider joining a support group for survivors of suicide loss. These include:
- Survivors of Suicide (SOS), a program through the Services for Teens at Risk (STAR) Center at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, is a support group for bereaved family members and close friends of
suicide victims. To learn more, call 412-864-3346.
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) maintains an online database of support groups and other resources for loss survivors.
- Healing Conversations is an AFSP program. The program puts you in touch by phone, text, or email with volunteers who are also suicide loss survivors. You can discuss your experience and get support from others with similar experiences.
- International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day holds events each year throughout the country. These events bring together loss survivors.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has online resources for loss survivors and support networks. Call the lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help and support.
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offers free downloadable resources on suicide loss, including on how to talk to children about suicide.
Get professional help.
Grief from suicide can affect relationships with other family members and friends. It can also cause or have an effect on mental health conditions. Mental health professionals including psychologists, grief counselors, and family therapists can help you process your suicide loss.
You should get professional help if you have signs of depression. If you have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others, seek immediate help at your nearest emergency department or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800 273-8255 or text SAVE to 741741.
If you live in Allegheny County and need immediate help or mental health counseling, call the 24/7 resolve Crisis Services hotline at 1-888-796-8226 or visit the walk-in center at 333 North Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208.
For more information about mental health services at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.