Suicide bereavement

If someone close to you or someone you know has recently died by suicide, you may be experiencing a range of difficult emotions such as shock, disbelief or even anger alongside many unanswered questions including ‘Could I have done anything to prevent it?’ and ‘Why did he/she do it?’.

Common reactions to suicide

  • Shock. Learning about the death of a loved one by suicide can often leave somebody in a state of shock. This shock can be intensified by the trauma of witnessing the suicide or finding the body. Shock can affect people physically through symptoms such as nausea, sleeping difficulties, chest pain, shaking, stomach pain, and breathlessness. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should see your local GP.
  • Grief and loss. Grief is the normal and natural response to loss and can affect every part of your life after a person close to you has suicided. Feelings associated with grief and loss vary and you may experience sadness, anger, anxiety, shock, panic, relief, numbness or guilt. Whilst these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process is necessary for healing.

  • Guilt. People who are bereaved by suicide can experience feelings of guilt and a sense of failure that they could not prevent the suicide. It's always easier to recognise a person’s distress in hindsight, so it's important to remember that the level of support you offered to them was based on the understanding you had of their situation at that time. When someone is at the point of suicide, they are usually unable to think clearly and rationally and are unlikely to be able to express their true thoughts and feelings. Suicide notes may blame someone for their suicide but are usually written at a time when the person is feeling desperate. No one is responsible for someone else’s decision to take their own life.

  • Wondering why? The question ‘why’ is one that can haunt people bereaved by suicide and in most cases, it can never truly be resolved. It is difficult not being able to understand why the person has taken his or her life. Even if you were aware of the problems and difficulties that the person was experiencing, it is difficult to understand why they felt that taking their life was their only answer.

  • Blame from others. Being subjected to blame for a suicide by family members or friends can be distressing. At a time when you need support, you may actually find yourself feeling isolated. For some people, blaming others is their way of dealing with grief. It might help to understand that these people are suffering from pain as well and they may be trying to protect themselves from further pain.

  • Anger. It is normal to feel angry with the person who died by suicide as their decision to leave has caused a lot of pain, however this reaction can be confusing. You might find yourself blaming someone else or those you believe could have contributed to the suicide. You may also feel angry with yourself for not preventing the suicide. Denying your anger can be far more damaging than letting yourself express it. Finding a way to do so in a safe and non destructive way is important. Talking about it can help as does participating in physical activities such as walking or playing sport.

  • Stress, anxiety and depression. Sometimes, people who are bereaved by suicide can suffer stress, anxiety or posttraumatic stress symptoms. You may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, experience nightmares, feel panicky or not want to be alone. You may feel that there is no longer any point to life without the deceased or that you are to blame for the suicide and don’t deserve to be happy. You may feel rejected by the deceased or other people you’re close to. Loneliness can add to your grief. Occasionally this stress and anxiety can develop into a more severe condition called posttraumatic stress disorder. You may also experience depression as a result of the suicide. If you are concerned about any of these feelings or your anxiety level, see your GP or a mental health specialist.

  • Shame.There can be stigma attached when a death is the result of suicide. You may not be sure of what to tell people for fear that others will judge you or the deceased. Your own acceptance of the person’s choice to suicide can help to relieve feelings of shame. It is important to speak with others who share this acceptance.

The grieving process

It is important to know that these types of emotions and thoughts are normal grief reactions and are very common amongst people bereaved by suicide. 

Many grief responses are significantly intensified following suicide and may be overwhelming.

If you need help, contact one of the services listed below. For immediate help when life may be in danger, call 000.

Understand the risks

Every suicide affects many people: family members, friends, co-workers and the community. If someone you know has recently been affected by a death by suicide, it is important for you to know that they may be at risk of suicide themselves.

Being affected by suicide can put you at risk of suicide as well. This could be:

  • partner
  • friend
  • fellow ex-service person
  • parent
  • child
  • sibling
  • fellow service personnel, or
  • anyone else in your community

Attempted suicide

After a person attempts suicide, they are at high risk of attempting suicide again. The most dangerous time for people to suicide is known to be within the immediate weeks after an attempted suicide or discharge from hospital. Therefore, it is very important that any person that has attempted suicide receives proper support from a professional counsellor and that they are not isolated from family, friends or others who will also be able to provide them with support.

It is important to offer help to someone you care about who has attempted suicide and equally important to look after yourself.  

What can I do?

The following behaviours can be helpful:

  • connect with family, friends, or others who are also coping with the effects of the suicide
  • be patient with yourself as you grieve. Don’t expect too much from yourself too quickly
  • try to maintain a normal schedule
  • look after yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising
  • join a support group for other people who have been bereaved by suicide
  • write down your feelings in a journal
  • engage in activities you enjoy to refresh yourself

What not to do

The following behaviours are not helpful:

  • working too much
  • withdrawing from family and friends
  • not looking after your health and wellbeing
  • using alcohol or drugs to ‘cope’
  • engaging in risky behaviours
  • blaming yourself or others

Staying calm

If you are feeling overwhelmed or not sure what to do, try Staying Calm to help you regain control of your thoughts and help you think things through.

Once you have watched or read 'Staying calm' you may be able to think about how you are going to talk to someone that you trust.

Helpful services

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS)  
Phone: 1800 011 046
Website : www.openarms.gov.au

Lifeline (24 hour crisis support)
Phone: 13 11 14
Website: www.lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service
Phone: 1300 659 467
Website: www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Standby is a suicide bereavement response service that provides a 24 hour coordinated community crisis response to families, friends and associates who have been bereaved through suicide.Standby provides telephone support, specialist crisis teams, information and connects people to support services in the local community. Visit website for local phone numbers: www.standbysupport.com.au

See also

  • Operation life help

    Getting help

    If you are worried about yourself or someone you care about, it can be hard to know what to do next. Help and support is available. For immediate help when life may be in danger, call 000.
  • Grief and loss image

    Grief

    There are no right or wrong ways to grieve, but we can help you better manage your grief to find some resolution and acceptance.
  • Counselling

    Open Arms can provide individual, couple and family counselling to help improve your resilience, as well as enhance your mental health and wellbeing. Call 1800 011 046 for free and confidential 24/7 support.