- The loss of someone to suicide can leave loved ones, as well as an entire community, grappling with difficult feelings and wondering what to do now.
- More specifically, those who knew an individual who lost their life to suicide often struggle with feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and sometimes, shame due to the stigma surrounding suicide.
- It’s important that all of those struggling with a loss to suicide get the professional help they need to address and manage this emotional burden.
- Members of a family/community can help one another through this difficult time by simply supporting each other and sharing pleasant memories of the lost individual.
- If you’re worried that someone you know is thinking about suicide, take the necessary steps to help them: the most important being talking to a professional about your concerns.
The Ripple Effect: How Does Suicide Affect Everyone Else?
Grappling with the loss of an individual to suicide is difficult for the individual’s loved ones and their community, alike. This kind of loss often leaves those who knew him or her with feelings of guilt, sadness, and even anger. Several mental health professionals explain these implications below:
“They may feel guilty after their loved one commits suicide. They might think that there was something that they could have done to prevent their loved one’s death. Anger is another common emotion that family and friends have when someone commits suicide. Because there is a lot of stigma about suicide, the loved one might feel embarrassment or shame and be reluctant to talk to others about what happened.” -Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S
“The aftermath takes a toll on the family and friends left behind, but also the community. These individuals are left feeling guilty for not noticing, not asking more questions, not encouraging the person to get professional help or not being a listening ear or understanding the extent of the emotional pain of the person who completed suicide. The guilt that weighs on the family and friends left behind is a tremendous emotional burden and it’s important to provide them with emotional support after a loved one has completed suicide.” -Miranda Dennis, LCSW
“Suicides impact whole communities. Experts have reported evidence that ‘at risk’ vulnerable students who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations may be further affected by memorial tributes. The support by friends, faith-based organizations and/or a mental health agency can make a significant difference to how a family manages the experience. Creating a personal memorial such as creating a memory book, planting a tree, making a memorial donation, sharing photos and stories as well as an event that is sensitive to cultural, spiritual, and/or religious beliefs can provide closure.” -Charlene Dimas-Peinado, LCSW, President & CEO, Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic
If You’re Worried Someone You Know Is Suicidal…
As detailed above, suicide has a tremendous impact on the individual’s loved ones as well as their community—often for many years to come. We all need to look out for those around us and do what we can to prevent the tragedy that is suicide and its aftermath. If you’re worried that someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or feelings, take the following actions, as recommended by Dan Schuck, author of A Glass Half Empty?… or Half Full? A Children’s Book for Grown-ups:
- Have courage to talk to the person you’re concerned about. Schuck says you should be upfront with them: “Ask them if they’re feeling suicidal—don’t wait for them to volunteer that. If you suspect it, they’ve probably thought it,” he explains. “Don’t let ‘stigma’ about the topic stop you from asking the hard questions. You will not create suicide by talking about it; it is more dangerous to hold your concerns than to raise the topic.”
- Try to control your anger. Another of Schuck’s tips is to keep your anger in check. “A natural reaction when someone we love tells us they are having suicidal thoughts is to feel anger, often directed right at the person. It can make the person unwilling to share their concerns with you,” he explains. “The argument of ‘think about what this would do to everyone you love, especially me’ is extremely valid—but might not be the most effective and may even push the suicidal person to keep further thoughts of suicide a secret from you.”
- Don’t try to simplify the problem. Furthermore, refrain from minimizing your loved one’s problems. You might feel like you can put their issues into perspective, but you’ll probably end up making things worse, considering they’re convinced their problems are insurmountable. “Another person’s mental state is really hard to understand and often our wish to provide ‘All you gotta do is…” answers really miss the mark,” says Schuck. “Do not try to ‘make the problem’ simple for the other person; you may believe it is, but they clearly do not.”
- Be an active listener. When you engage in conversation with your loved one about their thoughts and feelings, do your best to participate as an active listener. “Be there and let this person tell you what their feelings are. But also ask questions that elicit further discussion without being condemning. ‘Why do you feel that way? What would happen if…?’ The idea is to keep them talking about alternatives,” Shuck explains. “Many of the glass half empty or half glass full concepts are useful for helping to look at the problem with different perspectives.”
- Ask for help. Finally, ask for help. Don’t try to carry the weight of this situation all by yourself, but employ the help of your friends and family—it’s probably even a good idea to get a professional involved. “Don’t keep this secret to yourself. You need the help of the rest of your friends and family, but also consider professional help,” says Schuck. “Organizations like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline are ready to help you. Don’t put it all on the person feeling suicidal to call for help. You can take action too.”
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, get off this site and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Regardless of the time or day, someone will answer your call and get you the help that you need. You can find a list of other helpful resources here.