MENTAL HEALTH // Guest Post: Supporting Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide

A little while ago now, I mentioned that I was keen to have this blog become a place where mental health was openly and actively spoken about. Not too long after that, a message popped into my Inbox from someone who was keen to do just that -- to bring a mental health related subject into the light, providing some useful information and making it a topic we're okay with talking about.

That particular topic is the heavy reality of suicide and those it leaves behind. A difficult subject to address, and so it is with much respect that I introduce today's guest post by Jennifer McGregor:

A Guide for Supporting Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide...

If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, you know she struggles with a range of emotions, including guilt. While you may not know exactly what it is like to lose a loved one who has taken their life, you certainly can be there to offer support to the person who has been left behind. Here are some of the most helpful actions you can take to help someone through this most difficult time.

Do not wait to offer support 
Because of the stigma attached to suicide, you may hesitate to offer support to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Waiting to lend a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen will only make things worse, as your friend may feel that there is something to be ashamed of or that you somehow blame her for what happened. Your friend needs to know that she can express her feelings and trust you to listen to her without judgement.

She also needs to know that she can be honest with you and that she is free to grieve with your support. Your friend will feel emotions that she may not be expecting, and she may be very confused about feeling guilt, fear, anger, and shame over the loss of her loved one. You need to listen and give her a chance to vent to you, tell the story, and express her feelings in her own time and in her own way.

Say the right things
Chances are, you will worry about knowing what to say to your friend. The best course of action is to be sincere, empathetic, and understanding. Try to listen more than anything, but respond appropriately at all times. You need to be honest while being sensitive to her feelings and triggers. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge suicide or say the deceased person’s name, because your friend needs to know that you are not avoiding the subject or feeling uncomfortable about the suicide itself. Overall, be available to listen and truly hear what your friend is saying.

Keep in mind that there are several contributing factors to suicide
It can be very easy to blame oneself after a loved one dies as a result of suicide. However, when you are offering support to someone in this situation, do not allow her to blame herself in any way for what has happened. Feelings of guilt often are even stronger for people whose loved one committed suicide as a result of addiction. She may feel that she enabled the loved one, or she may feel that she drove them to suicide as a result of her tough love. No matter the reason for her feelings of guilt or the blame she places on herself, she needs to know that she is in no way responsible for the suicide.

Offer practical support
Sometimes, the most practical support is the most needed. You may want to cook meals, offer to provide child care, or do day-to-day tasks for the bereaved person. You also may find services to help your friend. For example, you may find a gardener or a dog walker for her so she can spend more time with her family and other loved ones to grieve and come to terms with what has happened.

You also may offer to go to a movie, take a yoga class, or go for daily walks together. Your friend will benefit from getting out of the house and getting her mind off of her lost loved one. Choosing activities that relieve stress is a bonus, and your friend may feel more comfortable confiding in you when participating in a relaxing activity.

The most important thing you can do to support someone who has lost a loved one to suicide is to be there for her right away. Listen without judgement or blame, be honest, reassure her that she is not to blame, and offer practical support to help your friend get through the difficult time as smoothly as possible. 

Jennifer McGregor is a pre-med student, who loves providing reliable health and medical resources for users. She knows how difficult it can be to sift through the mountains of health-related information on the web. She co-created the site with a friend as a way to push reputable information on health topics to the forefront, making them easier and quicker to find.

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