“There are only four words that mean so much more than I love you. And those words are I’m here for you.”

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A loss is rarely easy to bear, and a loss to suicide comes with a unique set of emotions. Surviving family members and friends may find themselves feeling sadness, guilt, anger, shame, or relief, and they may feel many of these things even within the same day. While there are usually no answers to why things happened the way they did, survivors may find some comfort in understanding that there is no one right or wrong way to feel. As with any loss, factual information and compassionate support can be key to moving forward in a healthy way.

Struggling With 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. Some cultural and religious traditions have specific views on death by suicide, and these views may further complicate the feelings a survivor is navigating.

4 Ways to Support Suicide Survivors

Did you know that people who lose a loved one from suicide often feel shunned and isolated? Rather than leave them to sit in guilt, shame and self-judgement, we can educate ourselves on ways to support them. Suicide loss is an extremely confusing and painful loss to navigate, and we need to stand by the survivors.

1. Listen

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. Just letting them know that you are there, whether or not they want to talk about the loss, can be amazingly helpful in lowering their feelings of isolation.

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. Rather than ask a general “How can I help?” gently let them know that you will be running a specific errand or bringing over a meal. Instead of “Can I bring you some food?” try “I’m bringing over a covered dish tomorrow. I can leave it on the front porch or stop in for a quick visit, whichever you prefer. Would you prefer lasagne or baked chicken?

3. Check-in

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. You do not need to always speak of the loss, as your presence lets them know that you are there for them no matter what. 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. It can be tempting to ask the specifics, especially if few details were shared publicly. Know that, with any loss, it is best to focus your questions and statements on how the survivors are doing instead of how their loved one left this life.

Instead of: “How did he do it?”
Try: “How are your children handling the loss?”

Instead of: “Was she drinking/using drugs again?”
Try: “I’m sure you’re feeling a lot of things now. I’m here if you’d like to talk or just sit together.”

Instead of: “Did he leave a note?”
Try: “Are there any calls or paperwork you could use my help to complete?”

Instead of: “Wasn’t she in counseling?”
Try: “I will always remember the amazing desserts she would bring to gatherings. She shared so much love with others.”

Death by Suicide

Mental illness and thoughts of suicide are not signs of weakenss, they are is simply things that some people struggle with. When we are able to offer our support from a place of compassion instead of judgement, we allow survivors a chance to process their grief in a safe environment. No matter how someone dies, their loved ones need and deserve our empathy and kind words.

If you aren’t sure what to say to someone after a loss, you can always say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you, for whatever you need.”

Suggested Read: The Struggle We Can’t See: How To Support Friends With Mental Illness