Depression

How to Cope With Suicide Grief

November 18, 2020

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The suicide of a loved one can cause an added layer of distress for those left behind compared to other forms of death. The loved ones of a suicide victim are often referred to as survivors, who can be left with questions and insecurities about their loved one’s death that torture them if pondered over too long. Survivors can endure extreme pain during their grieving process, but there is relief. Read down below to understand more about coping with surviving a loved one’s suicide, including:

  • Common psychological reactions of survivors
  • How to cope with the grief
Girl looks depressed while staring out at a sunset.
Depression is one of several common emotional reactions to a loved one’s suicide. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Common Psychological Reactions in Survivors

Depression/Anxiety

The suicide of a loved one can leave you feeling extremely distressed and nervous. The loss of a loved one in any way is painful to grapple with, but the complexity of suicide can make depressive and anxious symptoms even harder to deal with. It’s not uncommon for feelings of sadness to become severe enough to impede on being able to complete daily tasks. The topic of suicide can become a trigger for stress and tumultuous emotions to the point of causing horrid anxiety symptoms as well.  

Shame

The social stigma around mental health struggles and suicide can leave the loved ones of a suicide victim uncomfortable with accepting the death. It can be hard to imagine a someone dear to you taking their life--sentiments of shame around the uncomfortable truth of their death can plague those who survive suicide victims. It may be even more difficult to share the news with others due to fear of mental health stigma. The discomfort of others assuming the worst of the victim based on their circumstances can make processing and acknowledging the loss more cumbersome. 

Guilt

Guilt is likely one of the first emotional experiences one will deal with following news of a loved one taking their own life. Survivors can often torture themselves with feelings of guilt over “missing” signs of their loved one’s struggles or not preventing the death from happening. Family and friends can often burden themselves with feeling responsible for their loved one’s wellbeing, and a suicide can leave survivors feeling as though they could have done more. 

Anger

It’s common to immediately feel angry at a loved one for committing suicide. Survivors may feel as though they weren’t significant or adequate enough to motivate their loved one to stay alive. Those close to a victim may also direct their anger toward the external world. Thoughts about why the universe or chance didn’t intervene in a loved one’s suicide can darken and sour your perspective of the world. Though it’s healthy to feel anger as a reaction, it can have detrimental long-term effects if not redirected or processed healthily.

Blame

One of the most difficult aspects of a loved one’s suicide to grapple with is the question of why. Survivors may desperately wonder about a potential cause and if a specific event or life circumstances may be to blame for the death. It’s common to focus blame on something abstract, such as societal standards or the experience of the human condition. Sometimes blame can be pointed toward other people who were a part of the victim’s life. 

Trauma

The experience of a loved one taking their own life is a daunting life trauma to overcome. It’s not uncommon to relive flashbacks or have distressing thoughts if the death was witnessed. Even if you were nowhere near your loved one at the time of their death, imagined scenarios and disturbing dreams regarding the suicide’s occurrence can make processing the death even more painful. Surviving someone’s suicide is truly a traumatic experience that should never be treated too lightly. 

A group of four young friends hold onto each other while staring at a sunset.
Feeling support from others is effective to help you cope with a loss. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.

How to Cope With the Grief

Take things one day at a time

It’s essential to never rush yourself through the grieving process following a loved one’s suicide. You may have days that are easy to push through mixed in with days that feel impossible. Coping with surviving suicide is a process. Process your emotions and experiences at your own pace. There will come a day when you’re ready to expand your comfort zone and move on from the trauma. How many days that requires varies per individual, but going through the coping process should occur as quickly or slowly as you can handle. 

Focus on self-care

When coping with something as daunting as a loved one’s suicide, it’s not uncommon to feel guilty when caring for yourself. Don’t feel selfish or ashamed of indulging in your own needs and taking measures to find healthy coping mechanisms. Allowing yourself to feel and process the emotional storm that appears following a loved one’s suicide is vital to coping with the loss. Depressive or anxious symptoms may appear during your grieving process, and it’s essential to prioritize self-care in overcoming these symptoms as well. In coping with the tragedy of suicide, it’s important to never forget your own needs and to let yourself feel all of your emotions. 

Stay in contact with others

Isolating yourself may be helpful when first processing a trauma as heavy as a loved one taking their life--it may have given you time to deal with your feelings. But it’s essential that you don’t remain isolated from other people. Interacting with others can provide a distraction from any emotional turmoil you’re struggling with along with emotional support that you can’t provide for yourself. Even though family and friends may not always know the right thing to say, the comfort of being around those close to you can do wonders in your coping process. 

Fun and laughter can be healing

It’s important to remind yourself that your life doesn’t have to be over just because the life of someone dear to you is gone. You may feel guilty if you find yourself laughing during a conversation or enjoying an outing with friends. Immersing yourself in activities and amongst people who bring light and joy to your life can be powerful in overcoming tumultuous emotions. Positivity is a necessary component in pushing through to the end of the grieving process.  

A set of hands rests on top of each other to represent support and unity.
Suicide grief support groups can provide the structure and connectedness to help once overcome grief. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

Join a support group with other survivors

If you find yourself struggling to relate to those around you who are unfamiliar with your trauma, it may be helpful to spend time around other survivors with a similar story. Dealing with another’s suicide can sometimes feel like an isolating experience that most can’t comprehend or relate to. Finding a suicide grief support group can provide a sense of connectedness and support that those who haven’t experienced the trauma may not be able to provide. Always remember that you aren’t alone in your struggle. 

Decide on personal traditions for birthdays and holidays 

It’s impossible to simply forget and permanently repress the trauma of a loved one’s suicide. Personal days like anniversaries or birthdays can be extremely painful reminders of your loss. It’s important to decide how to handle those days as they repeat every year--whether through creating your own personal form of celebrating or simply memorializing your loved one on their special days, find a tradition for handling days that works for you. Some form of acknowledgement of the person may be more effective than repressing memories on those days. 

Don’t feel guilty for healing and moving on 

As hard as it is to accept, your life shouldn’t come to a standstill in response to a painful loss. Often people misinterpret moving on and coping with a loved one’s death as a betrayal to them. Forcing yourself to remain miserable and unfulfilled with life is not the same as displaying loyalty to a lost loved one. Your loved ones would want you to be happy and fulfilled with your life, and that desire doesn’t go away following a loved one’s death. 

You may never be the same, and that’s ok

One of the final steps in the grieving process is fully accepting that you may have permanently changed as a person following a loved one’s suicide. But this doesn’t have to be bad news. Recovering from a trauma can help you to build emotional resilience, making it easier to overcome personal traumas and setbacks. You may see the world from a more complex perspective or potentially develop more of an appreciation for life. 

Seek Professional Treatment

Sometimes trudging through the grieving process on your own can feel ineffective or too difficult. Always reach out for professional help when you don’t feel capable of handling your emotional turmoil. Psychotherapy can be a perfect intervention to help with processing emotions and identifying other healthy coping mechanisms. Medication and transcranial magnetic stimulation are other effective tools for addressing more severe depressive and anxious symptoms of grief. 

The grieving process for a suicide can be painful and sometimes feel as though there is no relief possible. With these self-care and mental health tips, it may be easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whether on your own or with the help of others, you can overcome your grief. 

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