Death by Suicide: 4 Ways to Support Suicide Survivors
“Suicide is a whispered word, inappropriate for polite company. Family and friends often pretend they do not hear the word’s dread sound even when it is uttered. For suicide is a taboo subject that stigmatizes not only the victim but the survivors as well.” – Earl A. Grollman
If you’ve recently lost a loved one to suicide, you’re not alone.
- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States.
- It is the second leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds after unintended injury.
- It is the fourth leading cause of death between 35-54 year olds.
- There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).
- Suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999.
- It is believed that 95% of people who take their own lives suffer from a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness.
Even with these alarming statistics, suicide, or maybe we should refer to it as death by mental illness, is still considered taboo by much of the population. This needs to change.
Struggling With Mental Illness
If you’ve never known a person with mental illness or have never experienced a mental illness, it can be difficult to understand why someone would take their own life, and it’s even harder to know what to say to the loved ones left behind. Even if you are familiar with the struggle that accompanies mental illness, it can still be difficult to find the right words or actions to comfort grieving family members.
Harvard Study On Suicide Impulsion
For those unfamiliar with mental illness, it’s important to recognize that no one is to blame. According to a Harvard University study, “. . . suicide cannot be predicted on an individual basis.” In fact, suicide is often an impulsive decision. In one study of suicide survivors, 70% of people tried to take their lives within an hour of first thinking about it. One in four of them made an attempt within five minutes of their first thought.
4 Ways to Support Suicide Survivors
Did you know that people who lose a loved one from suicide tend to feel shunned and isolated? It’s time to let go of guilt, shame, and judgment. Instead, we need to educate ourselves about mental illness. This is an extremely confusing and painful loss to navigate, and we need to support the survivors.
Survivors of suicide represent “the largest mental health casualties related to suicide”. The loss is not about you, so it’s vital to reserve judgment and advice. Instead, listen when a survivor would like to talk about the deceased. Even if it’s the 15th time, listen. Conversely, if the survivor is hesitant to discuss the death, don’t push for a discussion.
2. Offer Help
Assist with chores, errands, funeral arrangements, childcare, etc. A suicide is a sudden loss that catches people off guard and knocks the wind out of them. It is an extremely debilitating form of grief because of the intensity of emotions. It’s important to be proactive in helping survivors without taking over. Gently let them know that you will be running an errand or bringing over a meal.
Once the deceased is laid to rest, keep in regular contact with the survivors. Stay available because processing through grief is a long-term endeavor. Be present without judgment or words. The family needs to know that they have a loving, compassionate, and unwavering support network.
More like This: How To Support Someone Who Is Grieving: During And After A Loss
4. Be Supportive
People are often curious about the details of a suicide. A question may be asked innocently, but interpreted as insensitive.
- How did he/she do it?
- Were they getting help?
- Didn’t you know how bad he/she was?
- Did they leave a note?
Instead, offer thoughtful affirmations and comforting language:
- Share positive memories of the deceased.
- Make a donation to a mental health organization.
- Acknowledge that this must be a very difficult time.
- Reassure the survivor that you care and are thinking of them.
- Respect family members wishes if they don’t want to talk about it, but let them know you are there if they need you
A shift in how we view mental illness starts with each of us. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness; it is a disease of the mind. The sooner we accept this, the better off our society will be. People suffer silently because of the fear of being labeled negatively. We throw around words like crazy, insane, cookoo, and nuts without understanding that words carry power–enough power to shame someone into silence. As mental health disorders continue to increase, especially among our youngest and most vulnerable, a change in perception is desperately needed.