Coping with Suicide Grief

Feeling confused, helpless, angry, guilty, and many other emotions is normal after suicide. These complex responses to death often complicate grief. Grieving is never easy, but unresolved issues, social stigma, and feelings associated with suicide can make the grieving process longer and more difficult than other deaths.

This article will provide information on the feelings of suicidal grief and provide tips during coping bereavementand provide advice on when to seek professional help.

Common Reactions to Suicidal Grief

feelings

Everyone grieves in their own way and experiences different feelings at different times. There is no right or wrong feeling. Emotions just happen. Common emotional grief reactions after death include:

  • Puzzled
  • despair
  • guilty
  • anger
  • sad
  • eager

In addition to these common grief reactions, after suicide, people may be shocked and traumatized by the nature of the death. Other reactions may include feeling abandoned, rejected or betrayed, and shame. For some people, it may be difficult to identify feelings, and they may experience emotional numbness.

When is grief complicated?

While it’s never easy, for most people, grief is a healthy and normal response to loss. It allows us to process and process the many thoughts, feelings and reactions that arise after death. However, about 7%–10% of people experience complex grief and have difficulty accepting death and bereavement. This is common after death by suicide and homicide.

idea

There may be more thought processes after suicide than other forms of death and bereavement. It is common to try to find meaning in what happened, to find answers to why it happened, and to wonder if anything could be done to prevent suicide.

For some, there may also be intrusive thoughts and images, questioning of spiritual beliefs, and difficulty finding meaning in life. It is also common to overestimate the ability to prevent death and consider missed signs before death.

The Four Stages and Tasks of Grief

behavior

In grieving, protective and maladaptive (harmful) behaviors are often displayed in response to the intense pain of suicidal bereavement. Some of these behaviors include avoiding people and places that are reminiscent of the deceased, hiding the cause of death as a way of coping, trying to “address” the possible causes of the deceased’s life, and even attempting suicide.

Dealing with the stigma of suicide

No matter how common, suicide is still stigmatized. This complicates grief and can make it difficult for you to talk about the person, their pain, and how and why they died. For some, it may not be clear whether it is suicide or an accident, such as in the case of overdose and car accidents. These situations can lead to complex grief, making it difficult to grieve the loss and move forward in a healthy, socially acceptable way.

you’re not alone

While grief after suicide can feel very lonely, there are many people who are going through the same thing. Suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in all age groups, with 1 in 20 experiencing a suicide death each year. In a person’s lifetime, this number increases to one in five.

Coping with Suicide Grief

Post-suicide support or “post-trauma” offers a way to overcome grief. Social support, bereavement groups, and individual therapy can teach valuable skills and provide tools to manage the psychological, behavioral, and physical aspects of suicidal grief. Some studies even show that post-intervention support can prevent more suicide and unhealthy physical lifestyles, such as smoking and poor eating habits, that sometimes occur after suicide deaths.

How long does complex grief last?

Research shows that one year after a loss, the risk of complex grief decreases. For many people, complex grief symptoms will no longer exist after three to five years.

grief in your own way

Grief is as complex as an individual. Everyone experiences grief and loss at some point, and it’s estimated that up to one-third of the population may face suicidal bereavement, but everyone’s path to recovery is different.

Finding meaning after suicide is personal. For some, this may include donating clothes, time or money to organizations that have meaning for the deceased. For others, it may be a celebration in honor of the person’s life. For others, it may include quietness and internal reflection. There is no right or wrong way to heal from suicidal loss.

Throughout the grieving process, remember:

  • Frustration can and does happen: it feels like things are going well, and then something triggers the feelings and reactions associated with grief. This is a normal part of bereavement and should be expected.
  • Stay Focused: Focus on what you can do and how you can help, not what you did wrong or may have missed. Even the most supported and loved people die by suicide, and it’s not anyone’s fault that this happens.
  • Take it slow: Grief is a lifelong process, and while it’s not always so raw and painful, it’s always there in one way or another. Give yourself space and time to process your feelings.

connect with others

Grief after suicide can be a very lonely experience. It feels like no one else understands, and it seems easier to isolate than to seek support from others. Finding a suicide support group can provide connection, comfort, and helpful ideas on how to grieve in a meaningful way.

If a loved one tries to help and keeps getting rejected because they don’t think they will understand, they may become frustrated over time. Try reaching out to friends and family with specific questions they can help. Even small tasks like walking the dog, taking the kids to school, or delivering meals can go a long way and provide a much-needed source of support for a bereavement.

What is a support group?

seek professional help

Sometimes, the grief response doesn’t improve over time, or it continues to get worse. Those who grieve after suicide are at higher risk for certain mental health disorders, such as:

  • major depressive disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • anxiety
  • suicide or suicidal behavior

Those who have experienced suicidal loss have a higher risk of developing these mental health disorders than the general population.

In these cases, mental health professionals can help deal with loss and find meaning in complex bereavement. Although many people believe that lack of energy and resources is the reason for the difficulty in overcoming grief after suicide, mental health support is often seen as a positive, useful tool.

Suicide Prevention Hotline

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our national helpline database.

generalize

Coping with suicide is one of the most difficult types of grief. It is common to experience complex thoughts and feelings immediately after death, including questioning, shock, anger, rumination, longing, and numbness, to name a few. There may also be a desire to be isolated from others and a feeling that no one understands.

Combined with the trauma and stigma of suicide, the grief period can be prolonged and complicated. While bereavement can be complex, it is also common. Support groups, help from loved ones, and mental health counseling are supportive tools that have been shown to be effective in addressing complex bereavement following suicide.

VigorTip words

The pain of losing a loved one to suicide can be intensely overwhelming and seemingly never ending. If you are dealing with a suicidal loss, you may feel very alone, but you are not alone. With the help of a mental health professional, others who have experienced suicidal loss, and family and friends, you can begin to find meaning in your loss and rediscover the joy of life.

Sadness is normal, but it doesn’t need to be painful forever. It helps to seek support when you need it and embrace it when it is provided.

How to help a grieving friend

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do people feel when a loved one dies by suicide?

    Bereavement to suicide is a painful and very difficult experience. Feeling shocked, numb, confused, angry, sad, hopeless, and longing is common. You may also feel ashamed, betrayed, and abandoned. These feelings should ease over time. If they persist or get worse, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional.

  • How is suicide bereavement different from other types of bereavement?

    Suicide bereavement is a more complex bereavement because it is often accompanied by feelings of shock, guilt, and betrayal. The bereavement process is often fraught with wondering what was missed and how to prevent suicide. Contemplation about why the person chose to die, combined with the traumatic environment of death and the stigma surrounding suicide, can often make grieving in a healthy, effective way more difficult.