Supporting a Survivor of Suicide Loss


When helping a friend or family member that has experienced the death of someone by suicide or homicide:

Don't be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. Sometimes, when they least expect it, survivors may be overwhelmed by feelings of grief.

Accept that survivors might struggle with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame--all well beyond the what is experienced with other types of death.

Be patient, compassionate and understanding. Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools.

Familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of emotions that many survivors experience.

Allow your family member/friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he/she is feeling at the time.

Respect the need to grieve. Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed. The grief experience is unique, so be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your family member/friend to proceed at his/her own pace. Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors. Hearing the name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of their lives.

Avoid simplistic explanations and cliches. Cliches can be extremely painful for a survivor.

Be aware of special occasions. Survivors may have a difficult time during occasions like holidays, anniversaries and birthdays.

Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors of suicide. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This particular effort on your part will be appreciated.

Suicide Risk Factors


While no single risk factor predicts suicidal behaviour, it is helpful to be aware of circumstances that could contribute to being suicidal.

A combination of these factors that would contribute to increased vulnerability of risk.

  • Previous attempts
  • Having a family member or a person close to them die by suicide
  • Exposure to family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Substantial drug or alcohol use
  • Eating disorders
  • Significant life transitions (e.g. death of a partner, job loss)
  • Mental health diagnoses (e.g. bipolar or other depressive disorders, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder)
  • Serious physical illness
  • Severe and long-lasting pain
  • Living with few or no significant social contacts
  • Feeling of being a burden to others
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Few or no significant sources for stress management and relief

Suicide Warning Signs


In addition to recognizing a pattern of risk factors in someone you know, it also helps to pay attention to warning signs—indicators, messages or behaviours that could be suicidal communications.

  • Threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and/or, looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means; and/or, talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.
  • Saying they have no hope, feel trapped or feel there is no point in "going on".
  • Drinking more alcohol or using drugs, including prescription medicines.
  • No longer wanting to see people and spending increased time alone.
  • No longer taking care of themselves or following medical advice.
  • Giving away their things and/or hurrying to complete a will or settling other financial affairs.