It can be hard to know how to talk to someone who has been bereaved - even if they are a close colleague or friend. We often worry about 'saying the wrong thing' or upsetting that person by reminding them of their loss. However, if they are living with their experience of bereavement every day, it is unlikely that we will be raising anything they have not already been thinking about.
When it appears that someone may have been bereaved by suicide, things can feel even harder. Suicide and mental health are still issues that can be stigmatised and misunderstood. Someone bereaved by suicide may therefore avoid talking openly about their loss for fear of judgement or exposure to insensitive comments. Yet having their loss, and its particular nature, overlooked by others can also be painful.
Suicide has a wide 'ripple effect' making it important to bear in mind that many people can be affected by a suicide - even those who did not know, or were not particularly close, to the person who died. They may have witnessed the suicide or found the person who took their own life. It may also be that the particular details of a suicide evoke a strong response in an individual for personal reasons - for example, if they, or anyone they are close to, could be seen to have something in common with the person who died.
If someone close to you has been bereaved or affected by suicide, it may be helpful to start off by considering what might make their loss or experience feel different, and then to hold certain things in mind when speaking to that person and to others. This fact sheet provides relevant information, and also details of where those bereaved or affected by suicide can access further support.
Why Bereavement By Suicide Is Different
Whilst any bereavement can be painful and complex, there are several factors concerning bereavement by suicide that make it a unique and particularly challenging kind of loss.
Information About Suicide
Considering the following information may help you to reach out to someone who has been impacted by suicide with sensitivity and understanding.
How To Help
People tend to grieve and respond to difficult life events in very different ways. Therefore, if someone you know has been affected by suicide, their thoughts, feelings and behaviours may vary or change over time as part of their own individual reaction. Here are some ways in which you may be able to help.
Counselling & Further Professional Support
It's very normal for anyone bereaved or affected by suicide to experience a wide range of sometimes conflicting emotions in the days and weeks that follow - also for them to perhaps notice disturbances to their sleep, appetite, energy levels and general outlook on life. In the very early stages it will usually be best for a person to make use of their existing support networks, taking care to look after themselves physically as best they can and returning to work and other activities gradually and in a way that feels manageable. However, sometimes counselling or further professional support may play an important part in their recovery and ability to move forward in life.