Survivors of Suicide Loss
About 35,000 people in the United States die by suicide each year. On average, each suicide loss affects 6 blood relatives. If you include others that may potentially be affected by the loss, such as friends, colleagues, classmates or team mates, that number of persons affected can rise substantially.
A “survivor of suicide” or someone who is “bereaved by suicide” is a term used for someone who has lost a friend or loved one to suicide. The grief process following a death by suicide is more complicated than that found with other kinds of death or loss. In addition to the grief experienced in “normal” death, there are often feelings of guilt, confusion, anger and fear. Seeking answers to the question “Why?” can be overwhelming for survivors of suicide.
The grief process is unique to each individual and each person must work through their grief in their own way and at their own speed. This being said, there are some feelings and experiences that have been found to be common for those dealing with a loss due to suicide. Attending a support group or talking with other survivors of suicide can be very helpful in trying to understand and process the loss. Commonly reported feelings reported include: shock, shame, anger, blame, guilt, denial, depression and fear.
It is important that survivors of suicide are able to receive support from others and to utilize good self-care. Self-care activities include ensuring that survivors are focusing on their emotional needs, eating, resting, and engaging in calming activities such as going for walks, listening to music or playing with a pet. Someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be at higher risk for suicide themselves, and so needs to be monitored for suicidal thoughts and connected to needed supports. Most important is for the survivor to have at least one person that they feel they can talk to who will really listen to them.
LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) teams work with the police and sheriff’s department to provide a volunteer support team to survivors immediately folllowing the news of their loved one’s death or shortly therafter. LOSS teams are available in Sioux Falls through the Helpline Center and in Rapid City through the Front Porch Coalition.
The Helpline Center has a packet of resource materials specific to grief recovery for survivors that is available to be mailed or handed out upon request. Click here to make a request.
The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) has several resources for survivors of suicide:
- Survivors of Suicide Fact Sheet that discusses common experiences and reactions of those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
- Best Practices for Presentations by Suicide Loss and Suicide Attempt Survivors
- Beyond Surviving: 25 suggestions for Survivors compiled by survivor-movement pioneer Iris M. Bolton.
- SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide: This pocket guide provides an overview for survivors as they begin to try to understand the loss of their friend or family member. It is available for purchase for $2.00 through AAS.
- Books Recommended by AAS For Survivors
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) maintains an online library that includes a section titled “Survivor Resources” that contains a comprehensive list of survivor support materials, resources on coping with grief, books and additional resources.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Resource and Healing Guide is designed to help survivors navigate the experience of losing a loved one to suicide. It includes practical information about coping with suicide loss, personal survivor stories, articles on bereavement, resource listings and an extensive bibliography.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) has a guide titled “Suicide: Coping with the Loss of a Friend or Loved One” available to order that contains resources to help survivors begin the process of grieving, coping and living again.
The Dougy Center is a national resource that focuses specifically on assisting grieving children and their families.
Information on talking with children following a suicide attempt in the family can be accessed at http://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/VISN_19_Education.asp