Aleks Saunders
Aleks is a psychology graduate from King's College London who is highly motivated and driven to improve mental health services through psychological research, training, and intervention.
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This blog has been written from personal experience, and may not reflect everyone's journey.

While sharing similar characteristics with other bereavements, the loss of someone through suicide comes with unique grieving challenges. As those affected work through the aftereffects of loss, thoughts of shame, abandonment, betrayal, guilt, and anger are common. The stigma of suicide may make it more difficult for someone to talk about what they’re going through, creating an isolating experience. Reaching out to someone who has experienced loss through suicide can be difficult, and understanding the unique feelings that may follow is important in order to best offer support.

Guilt

Feelings of guilt are common for those who have experienced a loss through suicide. They may feel guilty for things they did or didn’t do while the person was alive. ‘What if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ may begin playing in their head, with thoughts similar to “I should have seen the signs”, “why didn’t I do anything to stop this?”, and “I wasn’t there when they needed me the most”.

Abandonment and Betrayal

Those left in the aftermath of a loss may feel betrayed or abandoned by those who passed away. Thoughts of “how could they leave me like this?”, and “did they not think about their family?” are common. This can often feed back into feelings of guilt due to feeling anger towards their loved one who passed away.

Shame and Stigma

Feeling unable to speak about the circumstances of a loved one’s passing may be driven by feelings of shame and stigma as suicide continues to carry judgement and misunderstanding.

The topic may make others uncomfortable through deep cultural roots of suicide being seen as a crime, a sin, or as a weakness, meaning that someone may not reach out for support. Others may be unsure what to say and avoid the topic, creating a feeling of isolation.

Trauma

Suicide can be traumatic for those involved, even if they didn’t directly witness it. Thoughts of how someone took their own life may play in someone’s imagination just as vividly as if they were there. Loss survivors may also need to handle police, coroners, and potential press inquiries or articles. The trauma of processing the grief itself is also a factor to consider.

How can you help?

Practical support

The shock of grief might leave someone unable to complete day to day tasks as they process it. Offering to cook, clean, or look after their pets or children can go a long way for someone who’s struggling. Offers to help with funeral arrangements and finances may also be welcomed. Be proactive about offering help rather than saying you’re there if they need anything, as often people may feel hesitant to reach out regardless.

Conversational support

Don’t be afraid to talk about loss, but refrain from asking intrusive questions surrounding the circumstance of death. Take the approach of an active listener and supporter, allowing the loss survivor to guide the conversation.

Long-term support

After the immediate shock of loss wears off and the funeral has passed, it may seem as though life continues as usual. But for many loss survivors, this is the time when reality starts to set in and navigating life without their loved one becomes the next challenge. Reach out and ask how they’re doing, and be prepared to listen but also accept if they don’t want to talk about it. On emotional days such as anniversaries and birthdays, a gentle reminder of your support could come through the form of a card or a phone call.

Support Resources

There are many support options available in the UK for suicide loss survivors. For a full directory of local support available to you, please see:

https://supportaftersuicide.org.uk/find-local-support/

Free counselling is also available through the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, which you can self-refer to:

https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/