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Loss from Suicide

Woman in blue sweater sitting on bed, writing in journal

Grief Support Options to Consider After Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

In the United States, suicide has become a leading cause of death, reaching nearly 50,000 deaths in 2022. With each death, it’s estimated that there are six or more “suicide survivors” – those deeply affected by the loss and left to grieve and try to understand what happened.

While all forms of death are difficult, losing a loved one to suicide comes with extra challenges. That’s why it’s so important for suicide survivors to receive support as they grapple with the questions and emotions that come along with suicide loss. Today, we’re going to discuss support options that are available to those who are struggling with the suicide death of a loved one.

Group of six people sitting in a circle as part of a grief support group

1. Join a Support Group

Suicide loss comes with hardships that not everyone experiences or understands. Often, suicide survivors deal with social stigma, shame, isolation, trauma, and confusion about why this happened or how they missed the signs. At a suicide grief support group, survivors will meet other people walking a similar path. Grief can make you feel isolated, but by joining a support group, it becomes apparent very quickly that you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling.

To find a support near you, visit the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), where you will find a directory of support groups. You can search by zip code to find the nearest groups.

Young man sitting on a couch, speaking with a grief counselor who is taking notes

2. Speak with a Grief Counselor One-on-One

For some, speaking with a grief counselor face-to-face may be the best fit. If there are particularly traumatic memories, such as being the first to find a loved one who completed suicide, there may be things you don’t want to discuss with a larger group. Through one-on-one sessions, suicide survivors can talk through any traumatic memories, depression, confusion, anxiety, or flashbacks.

There are counselors who specialize in companioning those dealing with suicide loss. If you know a grief counselor in your area, reach out to them directly to schedule an appointment. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask family or friends for recommendations or visit AFSP’s directory for clinicians who have received training to support suicide loss survivors.

Counseling is also available online through organizations like Better Help or Online Therapy.

Looking down at woman typing on a laptop

3. Find an Online Forum

Another option for receiving support after suicide loss is to find an online forum to share what’s on your mind and receive encouragement from others. If you aren’t sure about joining an in-person group, an online forum may be a good first step.

Perhaps the most well-known forum is Alliance of Hope, which offers a “culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide.” You can either post yourself or simply read others’ posts – both actions can help you on your own journey toward healing.

Woman sitting outside alone, leaning against a tree and reading a book

4. Read Books about Suicide Grief

As you work through the complicated emotions that come with suicide loss, there may be times when you just need to know that there’s hope. Consider looking into books about suicide grief, especially if you are someone who likes to read. You could dive into a more academic understanding of what to expect on the grief journey or you could read about another person’s journey through suicide grief. Hearing someone else’s story may be just what you need to feel encouraged for the healing work ahead.

Depending on your preference, select a physical book or an audiobook. Look online for book recommendations, but here are a few to get you started: “10 Books to Help You Through Suicide Loss.”

Mature man and adult son standing outside and talking

5. Talk with Family and Friends

Lastly, let’s not underestimate the power of talking things out with family or friends. Speaking with family members may be difficult at first, particularly if you are both deeply grieving the same person. But at the same time, leaning on each other can bring you closer and help you feel connected and supported through this upsetting time. And don’t feel like you need to speak to everyone – choose people you feel comfortable sharing with.

During times of grief, it’s essential to talk through what’s going on in the mind. By talking about the past, sharing memories, or voicing difficult emotions, everything comes out into the open. When previously hidden things are in the open, they lose their power over us. It may be easier to hide in the dark, but to find healing, things need to be addressed and brought into the light.

Woman in blue sweater sitting on bed, writing in journal

Additional Resources

As you consider your grief support options, remember that you aren’t limited to just one. If you’d like to join a support group, talk with a counselor, chat on an online forum, read books, and share with family and friends, do it. The more support you receive after suicide loss, the more likely you are to find the healing and reconciliation you need. While you may never fully understand why your loved one decided to complete suicide, you can come to a place where you can accept the answers you’ve found.

To help you on the journey, here are additional resources to consider. May your heart find healing and hope for the future as you process the death of someone dearly loved.

Suicide Loss & Prevention Websites

Suicide Loss & Grief Blog Articles

Father in denim shirt comforting his young daughter, who is sad

How You Can Support a Child After Parent Suicide

By Children, Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one to suicide is devastating at any age, but it has a deep, formative impact on children. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has done extensive research and found that children who are under the age of 18 when their parent dies by suicide are three times more likely to complete suicide themselves. That’s why it is so deeply important to provide support, encouragement, and care to these children. With that in mind, we’ll discuss 10 ways you can support a child as they process a parent’s suicide.

Note: This is a sensitive, complex topic, and will be a long-term undertaking for adult caregivers. We recommend that you also speak with a child grief counselor or specialist to get the most well-rounded information possible as you seek to help the child in your life.

Young boy sitting by himself, looking out a window with a stuffed animal beside him

Understanding the Work of Grief

First, let’s first talk about the “work of grief.” What does this mean? Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, a nationally respected author and grief counselor, says that we all have six needs when we mourn. Six needs that will help us do the work of grief and move toward healing and reconciliation. (Click here to read Dr. Wolfelt’s full article on the six needs.)

They are:

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death
  2. Embracing the pain of the loss
  3. Remembering the person who has died
  4. Developing a new self-identity
  5. Searching for meaning
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others

As you help a child process their suicide grief, keep these needs in mind. The child will work through each need during the grief journey. It will likely take many years, and there won’t be any particular order. Instead, focus on being there for them – a steady source of love and support.

Now that you have an understanding of the work of grief, let’s look at 10 tips for supporting a child after a parent completes suicide.

10 Tips for Supporting a Child After a Parent’s Suicide

Blonde mother kneeling in front of young son, talking softly to him

1. Be Open and Honest

It’s instinctive to want to protect children from the harsh things of life, but by doing so, we don’t teach them how to overcome those hard things. So, even though it may seem kinder to gloss over or barely discuss a parent’s suicide death, resist the urge. Also, don’t wait to tell them. The last thing they need is to hear about a parent’s death from a classmate, a teacher, or even on social media.

Children need to be able to trust the adults in their lives to tell the truth. When they ask questions, answer the questions. Be open. Be honest. Yes, be tactful and age-appropriate, but tell them what has happened. Children are resilient, but if you hide the truth, you will only create confusion and anger later on when they find out you weren’t fully honest.

To help you prepare for potential questions your child could ask, click here.

Mother hugging her sad, young daughter close as they grieve

2. Show Your Own Emotions

As adults, we try to keep our emotions in check, but this habit is often harmful. Children learn by example – by watching what you do – so if you stifle your emotions, they will stifle theirs. If you refuse to face your own depth of feeling, they won’t learn how to understand their own feelings.

So, be open with your own emotions. As you open up, your child will learn that it’s normal and okay to be sad, angry, betrayed, or confused after a death. By modeling healthy ways to process grief, you will help the child acknowledge the reality of the death and move forward on a journey toward healing.

Dad talking face to face with his middle-age son, explaining the suicide of a parent

3. Define “Suicide” and Discuss “Sadness vs. Depression”

You’ll use different words depending on the age of the child, but you want your child to have an understanding of suicide that comes from you. Additionally, it’s important to explain the difference between sadness and depression. You certainly don’t want a child to think suicide is the answer when they are feeling sad.

Instead, emphasize that the person was sick – they had a disease – which made them unable to think clearly or make good decisions. Then, discuss healthy ways to cope with sadness and other difficult feelings, so your child understands there are good ways to deal with big emotions.

For detailed tips on how to keep the discussion age-appropriate, click here.

Focus on the hands of two people, a female adult gently holding the hands of a child who needs comfort

4. Leave the Discussion Open

Grief isn’t over in a day. A child dealing with the suicide death of a parent has a long road ahead. They may ask questions every day for weeks, stop for a while, and then bring it up again in a year. As the adult caregiver, always be ready to open the discussion again. The child is only bringing it up because they’ve been thinking about it and want to process something.

Plus, children grieve differently, depending on age and personality. They will ask questions, and then they will go off and play. Or they won’t want to talk at first, but after they’ve had time to think, they will want to discuss it with you. Be open and ready, expecting future questions, so you won’t be caught off guard when the day comes.

Father in denim shirt comforting his young daughter, who is sad

5. Assure Them It’s Not Their Fault

Many adults deal with guilt after a suicide death, so it’s not surprising that children will experience the same thing. However, with children, it’s even more important to assure them it’s not their fault. They are too young to understand the social and psychological factors that contribute to suicide.

Instead of understanding that their parent was dealing with depression, they will instead think, “If only I had picked up my toys,” “been less annoying,” “done what they asked me to do,” then they might still be here. A child may also deal with feelings of rejection, thinking they weren’t important enough to their parent. As sensitively as possible, assure the child it’s not their fault. Remind them that their parent was sick and that sickness has nothing to do with the child.

Father and son sitting on tan couch at home, talking together

6. Get Back to Routine

After the death of a parent, a child’s everyday routine will change, no doubt. But you can create a similar routine that will become familiar and offer security. As they head back to school, make sure to let their teachers and counselors know what has happened, so they can support your child during school hours.

Include encouragement, hugs, and assurance in their daily routine. Your child needs to know that you aren’t going anywhere and will be there for them through the ups and downs.

Mother and son sitting on couch at home, mother hugging son close as he cries and is upset

7. Watch for Signs of Trauma

Some children experience more trauma than others after the suicide death of a parent. As you interact with the child, be on the lookout for certain warning signs:

  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Avoiding reminders of the person who has died
  • Participating in numbing activities (like too much TV, video games, etc.)
  • Anger or behavioral issues
  • Reduced academic performance

A child may exhibit some of these at the beginning of the grief journey, but if they don’t go away or they get worse, reach out to a professional for assistance.

Mother and young son at the graveside, participating in a remembrance activity and healing action

8. Participate in Healing Actions and Remembrance Activities

Regardless of the person’s manner of death, the work of grief requires that we take time to remember and reflect. This may mean:

  • Creating a scrapbook or memory box
  • Drawing pictures
  • Preparing a favorite meal
  • Watching a favorite movie or going to a beloved place
  • Attending a remembrance service at the holidays

In addition to remembrance activities, a funeral service provides an opportunity for your child to say goodbye and express their grief. While funerals can feel uncomfortable, children learn valuable life lessons from them. In the end, the funeral plays a large role in the grief journey. Those who take time to honor a loved one’s memory can more easily move forward after a loss.

Of course, you should discuss the funeral with your child and see if they’d like to contribute. Some children will want to participate, and others won’t. That’s okay – let them make the decision.

Young girl having fun blowing on a dandelion

9. Create a Sense of Wonder

While you can’t ignore the difficulties in life, you don’t have focus your family dynamic on them either. Nurture a sense of wonder, joy, hope, and creativity in your child. Discuss why life is beautiful and what good things are to come. Show them how to work through the big emotions.

As you pour into your child’s life, they will see the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and realize that it’s normal for these things to occur. This type of worldview will help them face the challenges ahead with resilience and fortitude, making them strong, capable, and emotionally healthy adults.

Mother and daughter sitting on a couch as they talk with a therapist

10. Seek Professional Help, When Needed

Caring for a child after parent suicide is not easy. If the child in your life is experiencing significant challenges, seek out professional help. A grief counselor or mental health therapist can work directly with your child and give you customized tips to help them through this season of deep grief.

For a child to become a healthy adult, it’s important to address any lingering effects of the death. Only then will the child be able to move forward with confidence and free of self-blame or feelings of rejection.

On the journey ahead, some days will be especially hard. But you’re not alone. Rely on your close family and friends to help you. Reach out to the professionals when it’s beyond your own capabilities. With support, encouragement, and time, your child can do the work of grief and move forward to a bright and healthy future.

Additional Resources

Children, Teens, and Suicide Loss (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Talking to Children About a Suicide (Mental Health Commission of Canada)

mother comforting her teen daughter

How to Help a Teenager Navigate Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one is hard, and losing someone to suicide can be even more challenging. Suicide is often stigmatized by society, and mourners must wrestle with questions they’ll likely never know the answer to. These questions can be especially difficult for teenagers, who are already in the process of defining their own identities and understanding of the world.

Unfortunately, suicide is becoming more and more common. In 2021, almost 50,000 people died from suicide, and 1.7 million adults attempted suicide. Teenagers are especially susceptible to suicide – about 1 out of every 10 high school students has attempted suicide and around 20% of high school students have contemplated suicide. The problem continues to grow, which is why it’s so important to support your teen when they lose someone – whether a family member, a friend, or a classmate – to suicide.

Losing someone they love to suicide can shake a teenager’s beliefs and leave them confused and torn. They may act out, withdraw from you or their friends, or become depressed. Going to the funeral of the person who died can be a great place to start, but your teen needs care and support throughout the days, months, and even years to come. You may not know how to help them, especially if you are also grieving, so here are five tips for how you can support your teenager during this difficult time.

Create a safe space

mother comforting her teen daughter

The suicide of a loved one can cause mourners to feel many different emotions – sadness, guilt, anger, fear, or even relief if the person was suffering. Both you and your teenager need to know that there is no right way to feel when grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. Let your teenager know they can talk to you about their emotions without fear of judgment.

A great way to help your teenager feel comfortable exploring their grief with you is by asking them how you can support them. Don’t assume that your teenager needs the same things you do. Your teenager may already know how you can support them while they’re grieving but may not know how to ask for it. Maybe they want to sit and talk, read and discuss a book about grief, or go out and enjoy an activity with you to take their mind off their grief. By asking them how you can help them – and then following through – you can open doors of communication and create a safe space for them to ask questions, explore their grief, and cope in a healthy way.

As you talk with your teenager, don’t avoid the topic of suicide. Suicide carries a lot of stigma, and talking about suicide openly and gently will help your teenager feel safe enough to ask you the questions that are likely already on their mind. However, do avoid talking about graphic details of the suicide or placing blame on anyone for the suicide; instead, focus on positive conversations with your teenager about how you can support each other now.


mother listening to her daughter

When your teenager does open up to you, stop and listen. Your first instinct may be to offer suggestions, fix problems, or offer encouragement, but you must first take time to listen and understand your teenager. Listen without judgment, asking questions when appropriate. Your teenager may struggle with feelings you disagree with – like blaming themselves for their loved one’s death or questioning their beliefs – but they don’t need a lecture. Instead, they need you to listen, understand, and empathize with them.

Some teenagers may withdraw or avoid the topic of death, grief, or suicide completely. You can listen to them by respecting their wishes while leaving the door for conversation open. You could ask them questions gently, check in with them, and be available when they’re ready to open up. Many teenagers want to grieve with their friends, especially if the person who died was one of their peers. You may feel left out, but as long as your teenager gets support from somewhere, respecting their choice is a good idea.

Keep your routine – but be flexible

calendar and routine

The suicide of a loved one can shake mourners to their core. Even if your teenager didn’t know the person who died by suicide very well, their world might feel like it’s crumbling around them. Sticking to their usual routine can help them find a sense of normalcy during a time of upheaval. In addition, it may be easier for teens to practice self-care when sticking to their usual routine.

But even as you try to keep your routine going, allow for flexibility. Some days, your teenager may not feel up to going to basketball practice or choir rehearsal. They may need to take a mental health day off from school or extracurricular activities. Alternatively, your teenager may want to completely change their routine – and that’s okay, too. Listen to their needs and help them develop a routine that will fit their needs as they begin their grief journey.

Include them

parents comforting teenage son

Teenagers are still exploring what grieving a loss looks like, and by including them in your own grieving process, you can show them what healthy grieving looks like. You may be tempted to bottle up your emotions and stay strong for them, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Your teenager will likely appreciate your openness about your emotions and feel safer expressing their own.

You can also involve your teenager by letting them come up with ideas for honoring the memory of the person who died. For example, if your teen likes to paint, draw, or write, they may want to make something special to be displayed or read at the funeral. If your teen was on a team or in a club with the person who died, they could host a special meeting for everyone to share stories and grieve together. If your teenager is interested, allow them to come up with an idea to remember the person who died and help them make it a reality.

Seek outside support

counselor helping a teenage boy

Grief, especially from suicide loss, can be difficult for teens to navigate on their own. Plus, the suicide of a fellow teenager can lead to copycat suicides. While these aren’t extremely common, suicides of close friends, deaths of people the teen identifies with, or suicides that get a lot of media attention can lead to clusters of similar suicides. If you notice that your teen is struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, or other risk factors, you may want to consider helping your teen sign up for professional support. Even if your teenager doesn’t seem to be at risk and just needs extra support, you can talk to them about the possibility of meeting with a grief support therapist.

You can also explore grief support groups in your area. Grief support groups can help your teen feel less alone since they will hear about others’ experiences. However, if your teen begins attending a grief support group, check with them about their experience. Grief support groups are all different, and instead of being comforted, your teenager may feel overwhelmed by hearing everyone’s stories.

During this difficult time, it’s important for your teen to know you are there to support them. As you grieve together, help them feel safe and comfortable asking questions. Their grief and reaction to the suicide may look different than yours, and that’s okay. Accept their feelings without judgment and let them know you’re there to walk alongside them and support them, no matter what.

Man with beard lying in bed reading a book

10 Books to Help You Through Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one to suicide is one of the most heart-wrenching and confusing events you may face in your life. Why did this happen? Could I have done something to help? Why didn’t I see it? So many questions and “what ifs” may be racing through your mind. It’s going to take time and intentionality to work through the big emotions you’re feeling and to sort through all the questions.

10 Books to Help You through Suicide Loss

Sometimes, it’s helpful to learn from the experiences of others. That’s why you might consider reading a book or two to help you on your journey to healing. To get you started, here are 10 books you should consider reading or sharing with friends or family who are processing suicide loss. The books on this list come with high ratings from their readers. Browse through and click the link to see which ones feel right for your unique grief journey.

woman sitting at table, reading a book

Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide (Christopher Lukas and Dr. Henry M. Seiden)

This book is a powerful mix of personal testimony and professional expertise. Silent Grief brings together the knowledge and experience of two men – one a suicide survivor and the other a psychologist. On the one hand, Christopher Lukas poignantly shares his personal experience with suicide loss. As a perfect complement, Dr. Henry Seiden offers guidance relating to grief reactions, overcoming shame, and practical strategies for coping.

Dying to Be Free: A Healing Guide for Families after a Suicide (Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch)

Too often people feel misunderstood or silenced after losing a loved one to suicide. This is because society places an undue amount of stigma on suicide-related deaths. In their book, Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch break down complicated personal and societal reactions to suicide loss. Having famously lost her cousin, Kurt Cobain, and two other family members to suicide, Beverly shares her own personal experience with suicide grief. She provides insight into the fear, shock, and guilt family members experience as well as offering compassionate guidance to those left behind to mourn.

Older man sitting on comfortable couch, reading a book

No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One (Carla Fine)

Following the suicide death of her husband, Carla Fine didn’t expect to face opposition to openly sharing her grief and pain, but that’s what happened. In her book, she explores her own feelings of shame, anger, and loneliness as she works to defeat societal stigmas and bring the realities of suicide survival to the light. Paired with the testimonies of other suicide loss survivors as well as counselors and mental health professionals, Carla offers thoughtful advice on how to make sense of the senseless and realize that you are not alone in your grief.

But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide (Barbara Rubel)

Told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy whose father died by suicide, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye chronicles the journey of one family through grief. Over a period of five years, you will see each family member grapple with their individual feelings and learn how to develop open and honest communication about what has happened to the entire family. Equipped with checklists, references, and sound advice, this book has proved to be a helpful companion to many families healing after suicide loss.

Older woman wrapped in blanket sitting on couch and reading a book

Understanding Your Suicide Grief (Dr. Alan Wolfelt)

As a grief counselor and death educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt has walked alongside hundreds of people as they come to terms with the losses they’ve experienced. In this compassionate guide, he draws on his own experience with suicide loss, offering 10 touchstones to assist you through the complicated and painful journey ahead. You will learn how to open yourself to the loss, embrace the pain you’ve suffered, and work toward reconciliation, rather than resolution. With his kind words, Wolfelt takes you on a journey toward hope and healing.

After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief (Dr. Jack Jordan and Dr. Bob Baugher)

Concise and to the point, this book has been described by one reader as their “Survival Bible for coping with our tremendous grief, and it has valuable suggestions for friends and family.” Designed to help survivors through the first year following a suicide, the pages are organized around the first few days, weeks, and months. With care and compassion, the authors provide solid suggestions and resources for survivors who are walking through the beginning stages of grief and figuring out how to do life after suicide loss.

Man with beard lying in bed reading a book

Healing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide (Catherine Greenleaf)

If you’d prefer a short, daily focus book option, check out Healing the Hurt Spirit. With 365 affirmations, you can read an inspirational message that will help you through the day. Each entry discusses relevant topics and provides insight into the author’s personal journey through suicide loss. Throughout its pages, you will find hope that you can find a way to move forward.

My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing after Death, Loss, or Suicide (Iris Bolton and Curtis Mitchell)

Despite a career as a successful psychologist, Iris Bolton missed the signs that her own son was dealing with suicidal thoughts. In this book, she shares her own personal story of loss and unpacks two major challenges survivors face. Why did this happen? Could I have stopped it? First written in 1983, the book has been revised and is still filled with relevant truths and resources that matter today. Bolton’s words may provide you with the insight and understanding you deeply need during this time of loss.

Young woman in black and white sweater sitting down and reading a book

Healing After the Suicide of a Loved One (Dr. Ann Smolin and Dr. John Guinan)

The first steps toward healing can feel insurmountable., but there’s hope. With this compassionate guide, you can begin to make sense of what’s happened and process what you may feel. Filled with case studies, valuable information, and insightful advice, Smolin and Guinan gently guide you through the painful aftermath of suicide. This guide includes special chapters for the death of parents, children, siblings, and spouse as well as a directory for support groups nationwide (US only).

Why Suicide? Questions and Answers about Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of  Someone You Know  (Eric Marcus)

In this landmark book, journalist Eric Marcus dives into the painful complexities of coming to grips with suicide. Having lost two family members to suicide, he is familiar with the daunting questions that fill your mind afterward. With kindness and grace, he offers objective, thoughtful answers to common questions.  These include how to tell others, how to help prevent suicide, and what to do with suicidal feelings when they arise.

There are countless books out there to help you through the grief journey ahead. This is a sampling of what’s available to you, and hopefully, you will find a few here that assist you. It’s important to remember that no book can offer a guarantee – the process of healing is up to you. If you do the work of grief – you face it, name it, work through it – you can find your way to healing and reconciliation. You may never have all the answers, but you can have peace within yourself. Best wishes for the journey ahead.

10 Tips for Processing Addiction or Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one is hard and emotionally draining – every time. However, when you lose a loved one to suicide or addiction, the loss is not only hard, it becomes stigmatized and disenfranchised. In other words, it’s hard to talk about, hard to get people to understand, and in many ways, you may feel ashamed or unable to talk about what happened because you don’t even fully understand it yourself.

As you begin to work through the emotions you feel surrounding your loved one’s death, it’s valuable to understand that what you’re feeling is normal. Are you angry? Confused? Feeling guilty? Sad? That’s okay. Do you even feel a small sense of relief that the up and down struggle with your loved one’s emotional state is over? That’s okay, too. And completely normal, by the way. Your emotions are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are something you must actively process through so that you can reach healing and find a way to reconcile yourself to your loved one’s death and the circumstances around it.

Let’s review 10 suggestions that will help you on your grief journey as you work through your feelings of loss and find a way to move forward.

1. Remember, you’re not alone

While there is often a societal stigma associated with suicide or addiction deaths, don’t allow yourself to become isolated. You are one of many thousands of people, even tens of thousands, affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide or addiction. Seek these people out. You will find those who are willing to talk about their experience and help you walk through yours.

2. Confront the circumstances

It’s easy to deny the role that drugs or mental health issues played in your loved one’s death, but it’s better to find a way to acknowledge the circumstances of the loss. In many ways, your loved one did not choose to die. They were under the influence of highly addictive drugs or of powerfully persuasive and destructive internal thoughts. In both instances, they were unwell and not themselves. If you can find a way to accept the reality of the situation – tragic as it is – then you have taken an important step toward grieving in a healthy way.

3. Express your feelings

As with any type of loss, you need to move the emotions inside out. In other words, what you’re feeling on the inside needs to be released rather than pent-up. You can do this in a variety of ways. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, grief support group, or professional therapist. Take time to journal, create art, compose music, or capture photographs – all focused on capturing what you feel. If you prefer physical exertion to help you express your more intense emotions, go for a run, do woodworking, restore a car, or do something else that fits your particular interests. The main thing is to find options that help you offload whatever you’re carrying inside.

4. Understand what leads to addiction or suicide

While it may seem a difficult task, the more you understand what led to your loved one’s death, the more capable you will be to process through any feelings of guilt or self-blame. You may think that you could have somehow prevented the death or could have done more. As you learn more about the factors that lead to addiction and suicide, the more you will realize your own role in the narrative and that your loved one was the only one capable of overcoming their own battles. You could not have fought the battle for them. Don’t take on more blame than is actually yours to bear.

5. Stand up for yourself

Because addiction and suicide deaths are often stigmatized by society, you may come across people who are insensitive or unkind. Don’t be afraid to kindly tell someone that their comments are hurtful and not helpful. You will be able to tell if the person is being intentionally unkind or simply doesn’t realize their words hurt you. For those who are unintentional, explain why their comments aren’t supportive, and they will likely apologize. For those who are unkind on purpose, dismiss their words as unimportant. Then, if it’s best, avoid seeing them in the future. You are dealing with a deep, complex loss and the last thing you need is a human hurdle on your way to healing.

6. Learn about available resources

Often, there are grief resources available right there in your community. Whether it’s a professional counselor or a grief support group, you should be able to find help near you. Some support groups that are nationwide (though not in every city) are:

  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing)
  • Al-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with alcoholism)
  • Nar-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with substance abuse)
  • GriefShare (grief support groups)

If none of these meet your specific needs or aren’t available in your area, do a Google search or call local hospices or funeral homes to see if they may have a list of grief resources available in the area.

7. Care for yourself

Grief takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on your body. Get plenty of sleep, stay active, and eat nutritious meals to give your body the energy it needs to sustain you through the grief journey. Take time to pamper yourself. Get a massage or a pedicure. Go out to the golf course for a few holes. Go for walks or runs with friends or alone. Buy yourself a treat (within reason). In other words, make sure that you aren’t running yourself ragged, but instead, are caring for yourself.

8. Meet your spiritual needs

As you take care of yourself physically, make sure to take time to meet your spiritual needs as well. Meet with a spiritual leader. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Write. Cry. As human beings, we are complex and have so many facets. We are the entire package – mind, body, and soul – and all three aspects need care and attention during times of grief. Right now, you may feel like hiding from or ignoring God, and that’s okay. He’s not going anywhere, so when you’re ready, reach out and He’ll be there for you.

9. Honor your loved one’s life

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In other words, take time to honor your loved one’s life in formal and informal ways. Plan a personalized funeral or memorial service. Invite friends over for a gathering to talk through your mutual loss. Attend the visitation to pay your respects. Give and/or receive condolences and sympathy. Make a collage of photos as a remembrance. Plant a memorial tree. Create a photo or scrapbook that will remind you of the good times and look at it when you miss your loved one. Some of these may resonate with you and others may not. Simply choose what works best for your life and personality.

You may be tempted to forego many of the normal funeral traditions because of the sensitive nature of your loved one’s death. While you can certainly make appropriate changes, take the necessary time to remember your loved one’s life and mourn what could have been.

10. Give yourself time

Healing from loss doesn’t happen in a day. Instead, it’s one day, even one moment, at a time. Don’t expect yourself to heal quickly. Give yourself the time and the grace you need to grieve well rather than in a hurry. There’s no timeline for grief. As long as you are doing the work of grief and working through your emotions, you can take all the time you need. There will be good days and bad days. Your grief will surprise you some days and will be absent on others. It’s all part of the process as you move toward healing and reconciliation.

Hopefully these insights will give you a place to start as you walk through your grief journey. While you may never know why your loved one chose this path, understanding their reasons isn’t the ultimate goal. What matters is that you take care of yourself through your pain, that you confront the emotions you feel, and that you allow yourself to heal and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. You can do this.

Self-Care After Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Grief, in all its forms, is exhausting mentally, physically, and psychologically. In addition to all the emotions it stirs up, loss forces us into a life change – learning how to move forward without a loved one. For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, there are added complications, like wanting to understand why, feeling isolated, and dealing with stigma and the negative attitudes of others. Because of these added factors, it’s even more important to practice self-care as you move through the process of grieving, coming to terms with what happened, and figuring out how to move forward, even if you don’t have all the answers.

10 Self-Care Tips After Suicide Loss

1. Explore your feelings

With suicide loss, so many questions and negative emotions may be fighting for space in your mind. Why did they do this? What could I have done differently? Anger, shame, guilt, confusion, and possibly relief, may battle with the sadness you feel. These complex emotions are completely normal. You have been confronted with a devastating, unexpected loss, and now, you have to wade through the questions and emotions that come with it. Don’t be afraid to name your emotions, whatever they may be. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can learn to deal with them.

2. Find ways to express those feelings

For many people, expressing our feelings means talking to someone we trust – whether that’s a friend, family member, or counselor. With suicide loss, people are generally more reluctant to talk about the loss because they feel ashamed of what their loved one did, or they can’t bear to process the emotions raging within them. They’d rather bottle it up and pretend everything is okay.

It’s not healthy to keep things inside. The only way to begin to process your feelings is to express them. However, you can carefully choose your method of expression. Maybe it is talking to someone. It could also be writing down what you feel, painting, drawing, walking in nature, or any number of things. The point is – find what works for you and begin the work of processing any negative emotions you may feel.

3. Take your time

Grief isn’t linear. It doesn’t follow a timeline or schedule. We can’t input a formula, and in exactly 10 months and five days, everything will be over and dealt with. Ultimately, the time it takes depends on you. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief expert and founder of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, says, “I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” Take your time – all the time you need – but do the work. Process your feelings. Learn to let go of the unanswered questions. Find new hope. Live your life and remember your loved one.

4. Treat yourself kindly

When something happens that you feel you could have prevented, you may blame yourself for not making different choices. You may be taking on part of the responsibility for your loved one’s death, but ultimately, it was their decision. Maybe you could have been kinder or more encouraging or noticed something sooner, but either way, the decision was out of your hands. While feelings of guilt may rise, treat yourself with kindness. You may need to accept that you could have done more, but in the same turn, also accept that your loved one made a choice that was beyond your control. Give yourself grace. Treat yourself and others with kindness. Love those still around you wholeheartedly.

5. Reach out to those you love

While your grief journey is something you must walk yourself, you don’t have to walk alone. Reach out to the people in your life who have been steadfast. Draw on your support groups – family, friends, church, volunteer groups, etc. There are people who love you, and they will stand by you as you process your loved one’s death. They may not always know what to say – you may not know what to say – but you can invite a few hand-selected people to walk with you as you learn how to move forward.

6. Eat well and get enough sleep

Grief can take a lot out of you. You may forget to eat or feel excessively tired. When dealing with suicide loss, sleep may feel elusive because questions plague your thoughts. No matter what, be intentional about taking care of your physical body. Make sure that you are eating, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. Nap when you’re tired unless you’re having trouble sleeping at night. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, avoid naps, try journaling your thoughts before bed, and create a bedtime routine you can sustain. By journaling at night, you can get those niggling thoughts out before your head hits the pillow – it may just help you sleep through the night.

7. Allow yourself to have fun

It’s okay to have fun. You may still be dealing with the loss of your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the life you have. Take a long soak in a hot bath. Go out to the movies with your friends. Bake your favorite dessert. Go shopping for that new pair of shoes. Even though you’re grieving, you must hang onto the joy of life. There is so much possibility ahead of you, and while there will be dark days when grief shows its face, there are also days of joy and happiness to come. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

8. Establish a routine

When something unexpected happens in life, everything feels out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events and people you didn’t expect. This is what happens when we lose a loved one suddenly – our lives lose their normalcy and are thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some normalcy and control. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your grief.

9. Recognize when you need a little extra help

With every suicide death, an estimated six or more people become “suicide survivors” – people who have lost a loved one and are struggling to understand why. Research shows us that suicide survivors often need the help of a mental health professional or a grief support group as they process through the loss. Because of the complex emotions and the unanswered questions, it’s always important to consider whether you should talk to a professional who can help you move forward.

A skilled mental health professional or grief counselor can:

  • Help you make sense of what happened and process your reactions to the loss
  • Work with you to explore any unresolved issues in your relationship with your lost loved one
  • Offer specialized support and understanding as you walk through your grief journey

10. Enjoy the good things in your life

When dealing with loss, especially a traumatic loss, it’s important to keep perspective, to focus on the good things in life. Otherwise, we can get transfixed on what’s difficult and beyond our control. So, take time every day to hug your children. Embrace your parents. Spend time with the people you love. Do the things that bring you joy. The good things in life sustain us through the bad. They give us hope for the future, and even though it may seem like the world is ending, there are good things coming, if you take the time to look.

Supporting a Friend Dealing with Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Any loss takes a toll on us emotionally, mentally, and physically. However, losing a loved one to suicide carries an extra level of challenge and confusion. Not only are suicide loss survivors processing the death of their loved one, they are also grappling with questions they may never have the answers to. Why did this happen? Could I have done something to prevent it?

If you know someone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide, they need your compassion and support more than anything else. You may not feel you are the most qualified person to help your friend, but you can do small things to help as they process their pain and walk down the path toward healing. Let’s review a few simple tips.

1. Listen attentively

First of all, be a safe place. Anyone dealing with suicide loss is processing many conflicting emotions and troubling questions. If they want to talk, be an attentive and caring listener. Also, let them decide what to share and when. Even if you have also lost someone to suicide, don’t assume that your friend’s grief is like yours. No two grief journeys are the same because no two people are the same. Instead, listen without judgment. Or, if they aren’t ready to talk, be patient and ask simple questions about how they are doing. Your questions about their welfare may open up a door to talk. If not, simply move the conversation to other topics.

2. Don’t ask for explanations or details

Stay away from asking too many questions. Your friend may feel like you are more interested in the gossipy details than you are in their welfare. Plus, your friend may be grappling with the same questions themselves, and your questions only emphasize just how little they actually know. Instead, focus on supporting them and listening to what they have to say about their loved one and the feelings they are dealing with. In time, you may learn all the information you’re curious about, but in the beginning, focus on just being a friend.

3. Be sensitive

Words are powerful. What we say has the power to build others up, tear them down, make them feel important, or make them pull away from us. So, as you talk and interact with your friend, be sensitive. That means, don’t try to fix things or brush over their difficult emotions. Don’t try to share in “troubles talk” by comparing your grief experiences to theirs. Instead, consider your words carefully. Ask yourself, “Would I find these words helpful?” If not, don’t say them and find other ways to offer support and love. For a few suggestions on what NOT to say, click here.

4. Make them feel comfortable

As mentioned earlier, be a safe place for your grieving friend. They may feel pressure, both internally and externally, to hide what happened. Suicide loss survivors often deal with a certain stigma from society and may feel alone or isolated. Your role as a friend is to make them feel comfortable, loved, valuable, and heard. Assure them that you want to hear what’s on their heart and mind. Make it known that you don’t think any differently of them and simply want to be there to love and support them through their grief journey.

5. Help them honor their loved one’s memory

More often than not, suicide comes after a long mental health battle, most commonly depression. It’s always important to remember that our loved ones are more than the way they died. Taking time to remember them and honor their life is an important part of the grieving process. So, share memories and stories with your friend that include their lost loved one. Use their loved one’s first name. Encourage your friend to write a letter to say all the things they didn’t get to say. Watch their loved one’s favorite movie, look at photos, or plant a memorial tree. Every life is worth remembering, no matter how it came to an end.

6. Stay close

Losing a family member to suicide is often especially devastating. While any kind of death may be difficult to bear, suicide can haunt survivors. In fact, research tells us that those who lose a loved one to suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves. However, those who received support and didn’t feel so stigmatized after their loss were at far less risk. So, make sure to stay close and be consistent with your love and support. They don’t need you just this week or this month – they need you long term. Allow them to talk about their grief whenever they feel the need and assure them that their emotions are valid and important.

Note: If you notice that your friend is struggling with their grief on a much deeper level, encourage them to see a grief counselor or therapist who can help them work through these complex emotions. Some things are beyond your capabilities, and it’s okay to seek help.

7. Offer to help

Grief is exhausting and throws off our established routine. So, to help your friend get the rest they need, offer to help with the practical things. Run errands, provide rides to appointments, pick up the kids from school, or walk the dog. Look for ways to help and ask, “Can I watch the kids tomorrow afternoon so you can rest?” After you’ve helped with a few tasks, try asking them directly how you can help. Since you’ve already established that you want to help, they will be more likely to tell you what they need. Each of these tasks may seem small, but to someone who is grieving, your actions mean support, friendship, and kindness.

Now that you have a few simple tips, go out there and support your grieving friends. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone. We need each other, through the good times and bad. As we support each other, we spread kindness and love to those who matter the most to us.

Hands together in a circle in solidarity

Suicide Loss Survivors: Your Grief Matters

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

No matter the type of loss, grief is hard. But in many ways, losing a loved one to suicide has its own added difficulties. You aren’t sure if you should talk about it. In fact, a family member may have asked you not to talk about it. You don’t know what to say when others ask about it or it comes up in conversation. In many ways, you just want the situation to go away, as if it never happened. But then, you feel bad because wishing it never happened is like wishing your loved one away. Why does it have to be so complicated? Does your grief even matter?

Yes, it absolutely does. Your grief matters. No matter the manner of death, take the time you need to mourn and remember your loved one.

Noted grief educator and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt attests to the reality of the deep pain that accompanies suicide loss. He says, “The death of someone from suicide feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced. The traumatic nature of the death may leave you feeling turned inside out and upside down. When suicide impacts our lives, we all need to grieve and to mourn. But our grief journeys are never exactly the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own unique way.

Sadly, the society we live in is not always as compassionate and understanding, particularly in relation to suicide. There are certain types of losses that go largely unacknowledged by society or are not given public expression. These losses are mourned in secret and are often not spoken of. We even have a name for this type of grief – disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, describes it as, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

To the many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, and colleagues who have lost someone to suicide, society may not acknowledge the gravity of your loss, but your loss is significant and worth grieving. Your grief is not something that should be swept under the rug or spoken of in whispers. It is real, and it is important.

So, as you move forward in your grief journey, as you mourn the loss of someone you loved, remember these things:

You have the right to grieve your loss

Despite what society may say, you have the right to grieve. You have lost someone special to you in a traumatic way. Any hopes and dreams you may have had for them are gone. You are left with a hollowness in your heart and a burning question – “why?” Even though you may never have the answers you seek, remember this – your loved one was one-of-a-kind, and you have a right to mourn them.

You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through

Particularly when we lose someone in a traumatic way, our feelings are all over the place. Maybe that’s you today. Find people you trust or others who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in. By talking about your loss, you help us all move toward being a society that acknowledges the depth of pain associated with suicide.

You have the right to feel whatever it is you feel

Grief expresses itself in many different ways. You may feel shock, denial, confusion, anger, guilt, sadness, or shame, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different. So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. We must go through the pain to move toward healing and reconciliation.

You have the right to be physically and emotionally weary

Grief is hard work. All of the emotions swirling inside, often not finding expression, sap your energy. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. In some cases, people may even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Be kind to yourself as you grieve so that you have the energy needed to move toward healing.

You have the right to find freedom from negative emotions

Particularly with suicide loss, certain negative emotions rise to the surface. You may feel guilty that you didn’t see something sooner. Anger at your loved one may grip you. Shame and its terrible baggage may try to tell you that you shouldn’t talk about your loss. Or, blame may be turning your family against each other. All of these negative emotions swirl around, but you have the right to be free from them. If you do the work of grief, you can find peace.

You have the right to be unashamed of your loss

Despite what society or insensitive people around you may say, your loss is not shameful. You have every right to feel deep emotions. Your loved one fought a fierce internal battle and that struggle is real and should not be demeaned. Don’t feel like you need to hide. Openly express what your loved one’s loss has meant to you. If others don’t understand, that doesn’t mean you should try to conceal your grief. By no means do you need their permission to grieve.

You have the right to have your loss acknowledged

You do have the right to have your loss acknowledged, though you shouldn’t go around demanding that people do so. Forcing people into something is never truly successful. Instead, find comfort in the knowledge that your loss is worth acknowledgment, and because it is, awareness groups all over the country are working to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.

You have the right to experience grief bursts

In times of grief, you may experience grief bursts. When this happens, something innocuous or unexpected triggers a surge of grief. The trigger could be anything – a photo, an anniversary, a quote, a movie, an article of clothing. These bursts are a normal and natural part of the grieving process. Don’t be surprised or frightened when you experience them. Instead, find someone who knows your struggle to talk with when they occur.

You have the right to cherish your memories

Even though you lost your loved one prematurely and in a devastating way, you have the right to cherish their memory. You can do this in a variety of ways. Collect keepsakes – photos, your loved one’s favorite things, clothing, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down in a grief journal or write letters to your loved one. Have a piece of jewelry made with your loved one’s initials or start a tradition that brings you comfort.

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

Like any grief – recognized or not – you have the right to grieve and to heal. You may not feel like you have the right to move forward. You may feel a crushing sense of guilt or shame at the moment. That’s okay. That’s where you are right now, and it’s not bad. But learn to embrace the truth – you have the right to move toward your grief and heal. You can find new meaning.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

If you take nothing else away, know that your loss is significant, and it is heartbreaking. You have the right to mourn the loss of your loved one – gone much too soon. Grieve in whatever way you need so that you can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.

Navigating the Emotions of Suicide or Overdose Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

It seems like it’s all over the news. The opioid crisis is ravaging communities. Another celebrity dies of an overdose. Another teenager takes his own life. Grief is always hard no matter how a loved one has died, but for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide, there is an added dimension to grief. For one, it seems like the death could have been somehow avoided. For another, the death leaves those left behind with many questions; none of them easy to answer.

As a society, we tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable or that don’t fit into neat categories. Typically, the death of a loved one fits into a category that is easily understood: chronic illness, accident, injury, heart disease, cancer, old age, etc. But death brought on by addiction or suicide can leave us at a loss as to how to react. Because of this, those grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide have added hurdles in the grief journey. However, just because the grief looks different doesn’t mean that what you are feeling isn’t completely normal.

Let’s discuss some of the common feelings associated with losing a loved one to overdose or suicide.

The Death Feels Avoidable

In the cases of overdose and suicide, the death feels like it was preventable. You may be plagued by considering all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” If only I had known. If only I had gone to see them that day. What if I had shown them how much I cared? What if I had done more? There is a sense that somehow, in some way, what happened is your fault. You feel that you could have done something to prevent the death of your loved one. While the death may have been preventable to a degree, it is not your fault. In most cases, it is a culmination of many things, not the actions or inactions of one person.

Guilt Sets In

For many families and friends dealing with suicide or overdose loss, guilt is an unwanted companion to grief. While the feeling is the same, the expression looks different for every person.

  • Guilt sets in because you feel that you could have done more to help.
  • You feel that it is somehow your fault that the person who has died developed an addiction or decided that suicide was the only option.
  • You feel guilty because you feel relieved. It’s hard to deal with an addiction that impacts family and friends for years on end, so when the person is gone, there is a sense of relief, which is then accompanied by a sense of guilt.

All of these are natural reactions, depending on you and your circumstances. These emotions do not mean you did not love the person who died. They are simply what you feel, and it’s okay.

Anger Shows Up

Oftentimes, when a loved one dies due to suicide or overdose, we become angry because it feels like the one who died had a choice in the matter. They didn’t have to die. You might feel angry that the person didn’t try harder. Or, you might be angry at the drug dealer who enabled the addiction or the bullies who made your loved one feel that there was no other way. You may even feel anger toward any medical staff or first responders involved because they couldn’t do more to save your loved one. If you are feeling angry, you’re not alone. For many people, anger is a normal and natural response to loss.

Shame Sneaks In

Shame sneaks into our grief and tries to make us feel like our loss is less than or not worth mentioning. This adds a new level of emotional distress. Both suicide and overdose deaths fall into a type of grief called disenfranchised grief. Losses of this kind are largely unacknowledged by society and are often mourned in secret. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, says that disenfranchised grief is “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Because we may not want to publicly talk about a loved one who committed suicide or was an addict, negative emotions may take hold inside, and a sense of shame may develop. We feel that our loved one’s death is something we should not talk about – something that we should hide.

A person may feel shame because:

  • A family member suffered from an addiction or committed suicide.
  • They feel that they enabled the person who died.
  • They feel that they didn’t do enough to help.
  • Other people think that the person who has died is less worthy of mourning due to the circumstances of their death.
  • They feel judged by others because of their lost loved one’s struggles.

Blame Separates Us From Each Other

A recent survey found a greater incidence of blame between the parents of a child whose death was related to drugs or suicide. The study found that of the blame comments they researched, 64% blamed the child who died while 36% blamed a parent. And nearly 50% of parents who lost a child to overdose or suicide report that their significant other blames them for the death.

Built on similar emotions as guilt or shame, blame works to separate us from each other. When something happens that we can’t control, we automatically look for someone to blame. You may blame the person who first introduced your loved one to drugs. It may be that you blame yourself for not seeing the struggle sooner or doing more. You may even blame the person themselves for not fighting harder or for letting others bring them down.

That is a lot of hurt and blame going around. As you process through your grief, know that blaming others feels like a natural reaction, but isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, work through your emotions, seek support from your family, and move toward reconciling yourself to the loss. Remember, it’s not about “moving on” or “getting over it.” Instead, reconciliation allows us to find a “new normal” that works for us.

Stigma Isolates

As if blame, shame, and guilt weren’t enough, there is a certain stigma that grievers often feel after losing a loved one to overdose or suicide. Because society at large often views overdose and suicide with negativity rather than compassion, those who are grieving feel the need to suffer in silence, leading to isolation.

This stigma from the outside world may lead mourners to:

  • Not talk about the loss of their loved one.
  • Be reluctant about showing their emotions about the loss.
  • Shy away from counseling or joining support groups.
  • Hesitate to ask friends or family members for support.

As a society, we are becoming more aware of our own biases, but for so many, the stigma remains. But if you are in the midst of grieving, remember that you have the right to mourn. The manner of death does not negate the value of the person who lived or the love you felt for them.

Fear or Anxiety Rises

After a traumatic loss by suicide or overdose, you may feel an increased amount of fear or anxiety. You may fear that a family member will also die in a similar way. Or, you may feel anxious about your relationships and wonder if surviving family members are keeping their internal struggle or habit a secret. This type of fear and anxiety causes some people to try to control others, as a means of protecting them. While it is good to want to protect your loved ones, be careful not to overdo it. If you find that anxiety is interfering with your work life, family life, or the health of your relationships, consider speaking with a counselor who can help you process through these complex emotions.

Depression Takes Hold

Lastly, depression can be triggered by grief, especially by a difficult loss compounded by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, blame, and isolation. If you feel that you may be in danger of slipping into depression, seek help immediately. A good counselor or psychologist may be able to help you see the situation from a different perspective, provide helpful therapies, and work with you to maintain healthy habits and positive thought patterns.

Consider Compassion

As you work through the complicated emotions of loss due to suicide or overdose, try to replace negative emotions with empathy and compassion. Think of the person who died with compassion for the pain they were experiencing that led them to such extreme measures. Think of yourself and your family members with compassion, trusting that you did the best you could in difficult circumstances. Consider with compassion those who do not understand the pain you are going through. Allow yourself to release blame and embrace forgiveness.

You’re Not Alone

Every single one of these emotions is normal and well documented behavior for those who have lost a loved one to overdose or suicide. If you are experiencing any or all of these, you aren’t alone. Others who have lost a loved one in similar circumstances are feeling something akin to what you are feeling. They do not feel exactly what you feel – no two grief journeys are the same – but they are intimately familiar with the struggle to cope with a difficult loss. Remember – you feel this way right now, but it will not last forever.

Reach out to others who understand, talk to counselors, friends, and family members, surround yourself with people who are willing to listen. If you continue to walk through the journey through grief, sometimes fighting for every step you take, you will eventually find your way through to renewed hope and healing. And who knows? You may one day find yourself on the other side, ready to help another who is going through the pain of grief and loss.

Young boy embracing his military father, American flag draped over father's shoulder

Suicide Prevention and Mental Health: What Can We Do to Help Our Nation’s Veterans?

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Suicide and mental health are a rising concern, and one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations are our own veterans and military personnel. Veterans embody qualities such as bravery, sacrifice, and dedication to a greater cause—all qualities we value deeply. Yet even as they fought for our freedom, many military members have found themselves suffering alone, and in silence.

Veterans today are facing one of the worst mental health crises we have ever seen. According to a 2014 Veterans Affairs study, it was discovered that an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day. That same year, veterans accounted for 18% of ALL suicide deaths but only accounted for 8.5% of the total population. Why are the numbers so high? And practically speaking, what can we do?

We can support our veterans by actively seeking to understand the challenges they face and become part of the solution. Here are a few things we can do to help our nation’s veterans and active duty military:

Woman comforting male solider, who looks distraught and has a hand to his face

1. Be Aware of the Signs of Depression

If you are a veteran, or if you have a loved one who is a veteran or active duty military personnel, be aware of the signs of depression. Depression is a very serious illness, leading to feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. In some cases, depression causes mental and emotional problems. If these problems occur, it can lead to an inability to function in the home or the workplace.

For veterans and active duty military members, depression may have a variety of causes, such as the death of a friend or fellow service member, traumatic events like combat or injury, preparing for deployment, or transitioning to civilian life, to name a few. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one in every ten older veterans (ages 65+) are currently battling depression, which is more than twice the percentage found in the general population of the same age.

What you can do: There are many ways that the friends and family can help a loved one who is battling depression. Working with a professional counselor or psychologist can help. In addition, new activities such as exercise, dietary changes, and getting enough direct sunlight can relieve symptoms.

American military uniform with American flag patch lying on wooden surface. Stethoscope lying beside it.

2. Educate Yourself about Traumatic Brain Injury and Its Effects

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is becoming increasingly more common among our military personnel as the methods of warfare evolve. In simple terms, TBI is a blow to the head that causes a disruption in brain function. For veterans and military members, this may occur during drills or as the result of a bomb blast.

Some cases register as a mild concussion, but in severe cases, TBI leads to changes in behavior and memory recall. The severity of a case is determined by how long consciousness is lost, how long memory loss or disorientation may last, and how responsive the person was after the initial injury. According to an article by PBS, “Those who go untreated may find their symptoms worsening over time, with some patients at risk for depression, substance abuse, severe anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, Alzheimer’s and suicide.”

What you can do: Be supportive and encourage TBI sufferers to seek professional support. In the meantime, remember that there are many others out there who are supporting a loved one living with TBI, and you can learn from their journeys.

Older man, fingers to lips, staring toward camera, looking sad

3. Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Its Symptoms

More than anything, it’s important to remember that PTSD is common and affects more than just military personnel. Absolutely anyone can suffer from PTSD. However, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, the percentage of persons suffering from PTSD is higher in the military than in the general population. For those in military service, PTSD has many root causes. Most commonly, it is connected to combat exposure, terrorist attacks, and sometimes physical assault. There are four major types of symptoms: 1) reliving the event, 2) avoiding situations that are a reminder of the past, 3) negative changes in beliefs or feelings, and 4) feeling wired all the time.

What you can do: When you see your loved one struggle, it’s hard to stand by and do nothing. Two practical actions you can take are: 1) offer to go to doctor’s visits with them so you can be familiar with medications and the doctor’s advice in addition to offering support and 2) encourage contact with friends and family to help create a support system. Additionally, as you try to encourage your veteran, seek out the resources available to bring them back to good mental health.

Young male soldier, sitting in a field, helmet in lap, knees drawn up, face pressed to helmet

4. Understand the Threat of Suicide

There has been a significant spike in veteran suicides since 2005, and according to recent research, the most common reason given for contemplating suicide is a desire to end intense emotional distress. Research continues to explore the link between PTSD cases and suicides. As noted above, veteran suicides make up 18% of ALL suicides, even though veterans constitute only 8.5% of the population. The numbers are staggering. A recent study from the Public Health Department revealed that veterans who were deployed have a 41% higher suicide risk than the general population while non-deployed veterans have a 61% higher risk!

What you can do: The best things you can do are to educate yourself on the signs of suicide risk, familiarize yourself with available resources, and encourage your loved one to seek the help and support they need. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, remember that everyone deals with grief differently. For helpful suggestions for processing grief, find resources online, join a support group and/or set up an appointment with a grief counselor.

African American soldier staring solemnly toward the camera

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It

Active military members are less likely to seek out mental health services and support. This is mainly because they fear for their jobs or don’t want to be viewed differently because they are struggling. A stigma still remains regarding mental health issues, though the Defense Department has taken deliberate actions to reverse this viewpoint. Veterans, though not in active service, also struggle with this very real stigma. Move forward with actively educating yourself on these mental health challenges. Don’t be afraid to talk to loved ones about their mental health or to express your loving concern. They need your support and understanding.

6. Draw Encouragement from the Success Stories of Others

The Department of Veterans Affairs has created a helpful website called Making the Connection. This website is filled with excellent resources and information regarding symptoms, support groups, and treatment. But most of all, real veterans share personal struggles of their fight for good mental health. Find encouragement and inspiration in their stories of struggle and victory.

With the trauma associated with military service, it is no surprise that our veterans are struggling. Educate yourself on the symptoms and look for ways to support veterans physically and emotionally. In closing, a reminder. The men and women of the military safeguard our freedom every day. Let’s work together to safeguard their mental health by becoming knowledgeable, capable, and ready to act. Our veterans deserve to live full and meaningful lives after their years of service to our country.

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