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Save. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

Responding to Suicide Survivors

SAVE's Recommendations for Responding to Suicide Survivors

Coping with death is never easy. When suicide is the cause of death, the situation can be even more uncomfortable. Although there is no one right way to grieve a death by suicide, through experience the people of SAVE have found the following recommendations useful and relevant.

Understand that brain diseases such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar illness, and schizophrenia underly 90% of suicides.

Depression is a no-fault disease of the brain. It is not caused just by life events such as the break-up of a relationship or loss of a job.

Express sympathy.

Avoid statements like, "You're you, you'll marry again." or "At least you have other children." Although well intentioned, these statements can be upsetting. A heartfelt, "I'm sorry for your loss," is appropriate.

Understand that the survivor may be experiencing a number of intense emotions.

Shock, pain, anger, bewilderment, disbelief, yearning, anxiety, depression, and stress are emotions expressed by some suicide survivors.

Remember that grief is an intensely individualistic journey.

Although you may have experienced grief in your life, avoid statements like, "I know how you feel." Instead ask how the person is feeling.

Listen.

Listening can be the most helpful thing you can do for a suicide survivor. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and be available if the survivor wants to talk.

Find out about suicide survivor grief/support groups in your community.

Many survivors have found it helpful to attend a suicide bereavement support group. Encourage the survivor to attend at least three or four meetings.

Read books about suicide.

Check the SAVE Reading List for ideas. We recommend Suicide: Survivors - A Guide for Those Left Behind by Adina Wrobleski.