How Does Suicide Affect Loved Ones?

Suicide can cause feelings of guilt, shame and trauma in surviving friends and family members -- another reason to seek help if you feel suicidal.
Suicide can cause feelings of guilt, shame and trauma in surviving friends and family members -- another reason to seek help if you feel suicidal.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. 

What Is Suicide?

Suicide is intentionally taking one’s own life. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2018, and the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. There were more than two and a half times as many suicides (48,344) in the U.S. in 2018 as there were homicides (18,830).

How Does Suicide Affect Loved Ones?

When a person commits suicide, the people they leave behind are greatly affected. While it’s never easy to lose a loved one, suicide can make grief more challenging.

  • Shame: There is a stigma attached to mental illness, which plays a role in most suicides, and suicide is considered a sin in many religions, so those left behind may feel shame and isolation. There may be a desire to keep the cause of death a secret which may hinder people’s ability to seek counseling and support. 
  • Blame: Family members and friends may blame each other for failing to stop the suicide or for actions perceived as leading to the suicide, which prevents families from supporting each other. 
  • Traumatic aftermath: Suicide is sudden and usually unexpected. While family members are beginning to grieve, they may be required to visit the scene of the death or to talk to police.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Many survivors develop PTSD, an anxiety disorder in which they re-live the events surrounding the suicide. 
  • Conflicting emotions: On one hand, people grieve the loss of the loved one, and on the other they may be angry at that person for taking their life and leaving everyone behind. These conflicting emotions can be difficult to resolve. 
  • Increased risk for suicide: Survivors of suicide are at an increased risk themselves for thinking about, planning, and committing suicide. 
  • “What if?”: After a suicide, survivors often question what if they had said something or done something, would that have a different outcome? Survivors may punish themselves for things over which they had no control. 

What Can I Do If I Have Lost A Loved One to Suicide?

Losing a loved one to suicide is a painful experience. After the suicide of a loved one, survivors may be at increased risk of depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, and other difficulties. 

  • Seek counseling
    • A skilled grief therapist can help you make sense of the death 
    • They can treat PTSD if it occurs 
    • They can help family members resolve issues 
    • They can help you find closure with any unfinished issues you may have had with the deceased
  • Find a support group
    • There are support groups for suicide survivors. You are not alone. 
  • Talk to others
    • Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family members to talk
  • Write
    • Journaling may help you sort out what you’re feeling
    • Write a letter to the loved one you lost to express your feelings
  • Take care of yourself
    • Don’t feel pressured to talk if you are not ready

How Can I Support a Friend Who Lost A Loved One to Suicide?

It’s always difficult to console someone in grief, and it can be more complex when a loved one is lost to suicide. Show your friend your concern and support. 

  • Be compassionate: Understand that survivors of suicide may feel shame and anger. Listen and provide support without criticism. 
  • Use the lost loved one’s name and share memories: This helps show you remember the person and can make it easier for loved ones to talk about them. 
  • Be sensitive on anniversaries and holidays: These times can highlight the absence of the loved one. 
  • Stay in contact: People often feel stigmatized and isolated after a loved one commits suicide. Let them know you’re still there. 
  • Listen without asking for an explanation: While you might be trying to understand how the suicide occurred, family members may feel like they’re being blamed.
  • Offer to help with errands: Helping with mundane day-to-day tasks as people grieve can lighten their burden. 
  • Don’t offer platitudes: Though often well-intended, saying things like, “This too shall pass,” or “Their suffering is over,” can sound like you are brushing aside a person’s grief. 
  • If the suicide followed a long struggle with mental or physical illness, the loved ones may want to acknowledge this as the true cause of death.