The 21st century has seen a significant rise in suicide rates. Nearly 45,000 American lives are lost to suicide every year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. For the loved ones of the deceased, suicide is a devastating act that can cause severe emotional distress. If you have recently lost a loved one to suicide, consider the following tips to help you through this extremely difficult time.
Don’t give guilt a foothold: In the aftermath of suicide, it is common for family members to ask themselves what they could have done to prevent the tragedy. The most important thing for you to realize is that the death was not your fault. Suicide is directly tied to mental illness, which means that symptoms of depression cloud a person’s ability to see the world accurately.
To a person who is trapped in the throes of depression, all hope seems to be lost, and the decision to end one’s life appears, in the moment, to offer the only relief. Many suicide survivors who receive the proper treatment later regret their attempt and find life to be worth living. A loved one’s depression should be viewed as a medical condition. Suicidal ruminations are the result of mental suffering that alters an individual’s ability to think clearly.
Realizing this fundamental truth about the origin of the tragedy can allow you to understand and sympathize with your loved one. Free yourself from guilt and embrace compassion. In the aftermath of loss, it is often useful to participate in healing actions. Tell the story of your loved one’s life, find ways to honor their memory, and cultivate compassion for others who suffer with mental illness.
Find a good therapist: Grief therapy can be helpful for anyone experiencing the pain of loss, but for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, it is particularly useful. For deaths unrelated to suicide, the passage of time and healthy grieving habits are generally the best ways to make progress on the road to recovery. But the traumatic nature of suicide makes loved ones susceptible to intense psychological distress, and professional help is required in many of these cases. In fact, the act of suicide increases the likelihood that a close friend or family member will also take their own life.
For this reason, counseling is often needed to help suicide loss survivors see the situation clearly. A trained psychiatrist can help you to understand the psychiatric problems that your loved one struggled with and the basis for their mental suffering. He or she may also be able to help you recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking that will help you to grieve in a healthy manner. You may even be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which a therapist could help you to treat.
Surround yourself with people that you love: Stay connected with the people in your life who matter to you. Isolation breeds unhappiness, especially after a traumatic event. If you are a person of faith, visit with people in your spiritual community. Invite friends over or go out to social events. Talk to family members often, and look for opportunities to socialize with others. Those who have lost loved ones to suicide often struggle with depression in the months after the loss, and studies indicate that social interaction is a great way to decrease depression.
During a period of time when you are vulnerable, it’s essential that you stay close to the people who mean the most to you. Friends and family members can keep you anchored in a routine, and this structure will be enormously beneficial during this time. They provide you with a sense of safety, security, and familiarity. If you need to cry or to express frustration, loved ones will permit you to do so. Communication with the people that you care about will provide you with a firm foundation to help you through this painful time.
Join a support community: In addition to staying in contact with close friends and family (or especially if you don’t have close friends or family), you may want to consider finding a support community. In the aftermath of grief, you may feel totally alone. Joining a support group can help you to realize that this isn’t true, and will allow you to form new connections that will give you strength and encouragement as you travel the road to healing.
Groups such as Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) can be beneficial because they allow you to hear the experiences of others who have lost loved ones to suicide. They also give you the opportunity to share your thoughts (if you wish to). You might find that being able to express your feelings in a welcoming and sympathetic environment helps you work through the loss and provides the encouragement that you need to continue your journey.
Be patient with yourself: Don’t give yourself a grief schedule. There is no rush, and nobody is required to find healing within a set time frame. You have experienced a loss that is enormously painful, and it is normal to find yourself having periods of deep sadness long after the loss. Allow yourself to cry or express frustration when you need to.
You will never stop missing your loved one. But over the course of time, you can find ways to enjoy life again. Remind yourself that time will make your situation more manageable. In the meantime, accept every emotion that you feel, and understand that it is okay to be upset. Accept yourself in every situation, without setting unrealistic expectations for how you should feel. The grief journey is not linear, and even after you feel much better, you may experience occasional grief bursts. By allowing yourself to feel these emotions without judgment, you can make a great deal of progress on your grief journey.
Establish the legacy of your loved one: In the aftermath of suicide, find ways to remember the positive impact that your loved one had on the lives of others. You may want to participate in certain rituals to honor their memory, such as attending a prayer vigil or gathering with loved ones to share your thoughts about the person who died. Through stories and memories, remind others of the meaningful life that your loved one lived.
Do you remember your loved one helping others in a time of need? Or a time when the loved one accomplished something extraordinary? Search for funny or happy memories with this person and share their story with others. If you feel comfortable, you may even start a blog, or find another way to write about what your loved one meant to you and those around you. The fact that the death hurts is an indicator of the joy that the loved one brought to other people. Sharing the story of his or her life can be an important healing step on your grief journey.