Coping With the Agony Of Suicide


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Grieving the death of a loved one who dies of suicide is an intense and agonizing process. While all deaths are difficult, trying to cope after suicide presents special challenges.

Grieving is an individual process. How you grieve will be different from others. The following advice may help you process your loss.

Take the Time You Need

For many survivors, the shock can last a long time, says Marnie Masten, MS, LPCC, LSW, Director of CrisisCare at Samaritan Behavioral Health. “Some people are never able to move through the grief process. It’s complicated.”

She advises that it is time to seek professional help when you find that you continue to deny what happened or hide your feelings.

Therapy Provides Perspective

If your grief turns to depression and isolation, therapy can help. Masten explains that often survivors feel guilty, blaming themselves for the death. “A therapist will help you explore those feelings and challenge whether they are appropriate,” she says. “A therapist will help you put the suicide into perspective and move forward in your healing.”

In some instances, especially if your loved one had a longstanding mental or psychiatric problem, you may experience relief, followed by guilt about having felt relief. Therapy can help you sort out these feelings and deal with them appropriately.

If your grief turns to depression and isolation, therapy can help.

Join Others. Take Action.

“There is healing in spending time with others who also are grieving a suicide,” says Masten. Support groups for survivors of suicide can be tremendously helpful, she says. You can share your feelings and your story with fellow survivors who won’t judge you or cause shame.

Masten encourages participation in special events like International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day or the Out of the Darkness Walk. “These events can be a bonding experience. It is helpful to see that others share a similar loss and feel the same emptiness as you.”

P-W-WMN95278-Coping-with-Suicide-smCoping With the Trauma Of Discovering the Body

If you witnessed the suicide or found the body, you likely will experience trauma in addition to grief. The visual memory may make it difficult to concentrate or sleep, cause anxiety, confusion, and physical pain. These emotional and physical responses to the event should diminish after weeks or months. If they don’t, Masten suggests seeking professional help from someone who has worked with people suffering from traumatic experiences or losses.

Take Care Of Yourself

Taking care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – is essential. If you don’t get the support you need from family and friends, lean on people who are able to appropriately support you. Seek help from a professional, if needed. 

Getting proper sleep, exercise, and eating healthy will help to reduce your stress and prevent you from feeling worse. Limit or avoid alcohol or drugs. They can delay your recovery.

Celebrating Special Occasions

Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions may be especially difficult following a suicide. There is no right or wrong way to recognize the occasion. It’s OK to celebrate as usual, take a year off, or begin a new tradition instead. Travelling or volunteering may be good alternatives.

Many suicide survivors report that anticipating the special occasion turns out to be more painful than the event itself. Decide what will be best for you. Let others know your decision. If interested, ask them to join you.

Advice From a Survivor

This handbook, written by a suicide survivor, contains excellent advice on coping.

Adjusting to life without your loved one may seem excruciating. You may think you will never feel normal again. But healing does eventually occur.

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