Suicide – Prevention; Coping with the Aftermath

Suicide Prevention
Coping with the Aftermath

Suicide Prevention Resources:

When a Crisis Involves the Risk of Suicide (excerpt from “Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency” (https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Publications-Reports/Guides/Navigating-a-Mental-Health-Crisis))

Risk of suicide is a major concern for people with mental health conditions and those who love them. Encouraging someone to get help is a first step towards safety.

People who attempt suicide typically feel overwhelming emotional pain, frustration, loneliness, hopelessness, powerlessness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, rage and/or self-hatred. The social isolation so common in the lives of those with mental illness can reinforce the belief that no one cares if they live or die.

Any talk of suicide should always be taken seriously. Most people who attempt suicide have given some warning—but this isn’t always the case. If someone has attempted suicide before, the risk is even greater.

Common warning signs of suicide include:

♦ Giving away personal possessions
♦ Talking as if they’re saying goodbye or going away forever
♦ Taking steps to tie up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
♦ Making or changing a will
♦ Stock piling pills or obtaining a weapon
♦ Preoccupation with death
♦ Sudden cheerfulness or calm after a period of despondency
♦ Dramatic changes in personality, mood and/or behavior
♦ Increased drug or alcohol use
♦ Saying things like “Nothing matters anymore,” “You’ll be better off without me,” or “Life isn’t worth living”
♦ Withdrawal from friends, family and normal activities
♦ Failed romantic relationship
♦ Sense of utter hopelessness and helplessness
♦ History of suicide attempts or other self-harming behaviors
♦ History of family/friend suicide or attempts

What To Do If You Suspect Someone is Thinking About Suicide

If you notice any of the above warning signs or if you’re concerned someone is thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. Start the conversation.

Open the conversation by sharing specific signs you’ve noticed, like:

“I’ve noticed lately that you [haven’t been sleeping, aren’t interested in soccer anymore, which you used to love, are posting a lot of sad song lyrics online, etc.] …”

Then say something like:
✔ “Are you thinking about suicide?”
✔ “Do you have a plan? Do you know how you would do it?”
✔ “When was the last time you thought about suicide?”

If the answer is “Yes” or if you think they might be at risk of suicide, you need to seek help immediately.
✔ Call a therapist or psychiatrist/physician or other health care professional who has been working with the person
✔ Remove potential means such as weapons and medications to reduce risk
✔ Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911

Listen, express concern, reassure. Focus on being understanding, caring and nonjudgmental, saying something like:
✔ “You are not alone. I’m here for you”
✔ “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help”
✔ “I’m concerned about you and I want you to know there is help available to get you through this”
✔ “You are important to me; we will get through this together”

What Not to do
✘ Don’t promise secrecy. Say instead: “I care about you too much to keep this kind of secret. You need help and I’m here to help you get it.”
✘ Don’t debate the value of living or argue that suicide is right or wrong
✘ Don’t ask in a way that indicates you want “No” for an answer

  • “You’re not thinking about suicide, are you?”
  • “You haven’t been throwing up to lose weight, have you?”

✘ Don’t try to handle the situation alone
✘ Don’t try to single-handedly resolve the situation

What Not to say
✘ “We all go through tough times like these. You’ll be fine.”
✘ “It’s all in your head. Just snap out of it.”

Please remember, a suicide threat or attempt is a medical emergency requiring professional help as soon as possible.

Resources for Coping with the Aftermath of a Suicide:

Suicide Grief: Healing after a Loved One’s Suicide (quoted from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/end-of-life/in-depth/suicide/art-20044900)
By Mayo Clinic Staff

A loved one’s suicide can be emotionally devastating. Use healthy coping strategies — such as seeking support — to begin the journey to healing and acceptance.

When a loved one dies by suicide, overwhelming emotions can leave you reeling. Your grief might be heart wrenching. At the same time, you might be consumed by guilt — wondering if you could have done something to prevent your loved one’s death.

As you face life after a loved one’s suicide, remember that you don’t have to go through it alone.

Brace for Powerful Emotions
A loved one’s suicide can trigger intense emotions. For example:

  • Shock. Disbelief and emotional numbness might set in. You might think that your loved one’s suicide couldn’t possibly be real.
  • Anger. You might be angry with your loved one for abandoning you or leaving you with a legacy of grief — or angry with yourself or others for missing clues about suicidal intentions.
  • Guilt. You might replay “what if” and “if only” scenarios in your mind, blaming yourself for your loved one’s death.
  • Despair. You might be gripped by sadness, loneliness or helplessness. You might have a physical collapse or even consider suicide yourself.
  • Confusion. Many people try to make some sense out of the death, or try to understand why their loved one took his or her life. But, you’ll likely always have some unanswered questions.
  • Feelings of rejection.You might wonder why your relationship wasn’t enough to keep your loved one from dying by suicide.

You might continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your loved one’s suicide — including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities — especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.

Dealing with Stigma

Many people have trouble discussing suicide, and might not reach out to you. This could leave you feeling isolated or abandoned if the support you expected to receive just isn’t there.

Additionally, some religions limit the rituals available to people who’ve died by suicide, which could also leave you feeling alone. You might also feel deprived of some of the usual tools you depended on in the past to help you cope.

Adopt Healthy Coping Strategies

The aftermath of a loved one’s suicide can be physically and emotionally exhausting. As you work through your grief, be careful to protect your own well-being.

  • Keep in touch. Reach out to loved ones, friends and spiritual leaders for comfort, understanding and healing. Surround yourself with people who are willing to listen when you need to talk, as well as those who’ll simply offer a shoulder to lean on when you’d rather be silent.
  • Grieve in your own way. Do what’s right for you, not necessarily someone else. There is no single “right” way to grieve. If you find it too painful to visit your loved one’s gravesite or share the details of your loved one’s death, wait until you’re ready.
  • Be prepared for painful reminders. Anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions can be painful reminders of your loved one’s suicide. Don’t chide yourself for being sad or mournful. Instead, consider changing or suspending family traditions that are too painful to continue.
  • Don’t rush yourself. Losing someone to suicide is a tremendous blow, and healing must occur at its own pace. Don’t be hurried by anyone else’s expectations that it’s been “long enough.”
  • Expect setbacks. Some days will be better than others, even years after the suicide — and that’s OK. Healing doesn’t often happen in a straight line.
  • Consider a support group for families affected by suicide. Sharing your story with others who are experiencing the same type of grief might help you find a sense of purpose or strength. However, if you find going to these groups keeps you ruminating on your loved one’s death, seek out other methods of support.

Know When to Seek Professional Help

If you experience intense or unrelenting anguish or physical problems, ask your doctor or mental health provider for help. Seeking professional help is especially important if you think you might be depressed or you have recurring thoughts of suicide. Unresolved grief can turn into complicated grief, where painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble resuming your own life.

Depending on the circumstances, you might benefit from individual or family therapy — either to get you through the worst of the crisis or to help you adjust to life after suicide. Short-term medication can be helpful in some cases, too.

Face the Future with a Sense of Peace

In the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, you might feel like you can’t go on or that you’ll never enjoy life again.

In truth, you might always wonder why it happened — and reminders might trigger painful feelings even years later. Eventually, however, the raw intensity of your grief will fade. The tragedy of the suicide won’t dominate your days and nights.

Understanding the complicated legacy of suicide and how to cope with palpable grief can help you find peace and healing, while still honoring the memory of your loved one.

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