If someone important to you dies by suicide, you may feel grief and many complex emotions that come and go over time. There is no right or wrong way to feel or react.
Losing someone close can be very painful.
But a death may also affect you if you:
- had a difficult relationship with the person who died
- knew the person less well than others
- helped care for the person before or after they died
If you are finding it hard to cope, support is available.
Signs of grief and difficult feelings
When someone dies, you may experience overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
Some feelings and physical symptoms include:
- feeling numb, shock or disbelief
- sadness or depression
- being angry or defensive
- feeling relieved or guilty
- feeling frightened, helpless or lonely
- problems sleeping
- losing your appetite
- tiredness and difficulty concentrating
You might spend a lot of time thinking about the person and what happened before they died. You may feel rejected and struggle to understand why.
Having thoughts of self-harm and suicide can happen. This can be frightening. But it does not mean that you will act on these thoughts. It is important to get support if you have these thoughts.
Urgent advice: Go to your GP or nearest emergency department (ED) if you:
- have frequent suicidal thoughts
- are thinking of acting on suicidal thoughts
Emergency action required: Call 112 or 999 if:
- you or someone you know is about to harm themselves or someone else
Things that can help
Be kind and gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself the way you would take care of a friend.
Some days will be more difficult than others.
But try to:
- eat well and limit alcohol
- get enough sleep and physical activity
- get back into a routine as soon as you can
- accept emotional and practical support from others
- be patient with yourself if you have setbacks
It may take some time to let go of your questions, anger, guilt or other feelings. Letting go does not mean that you have forgotten the person who died or you are over your grief. With time and support, most people find that their grief becomes less intense.
Talking to other people
Many people cope by getting support from family and friends. Find a good listener to talk to about your loss and feelings.
Looking at photos or telling stories about the person who died can help you keep a connection to them.
Some people may not know how to talk to you.
If you cannot talk to family or friends, you can contact:
- a support group
- a GP, counsellor or other healthcare professional
- Samaritans on 116 123
- Pieta on 1800 247 247
- an organisation that offers bereavement support
Some people find it helps to connect with others who have been bereaved by suicide. Grief affects people in different ways. But many people bereaved by suicide experience similar feelings.
It may be daunting to imagine talking to other people affected by suicide. Some people fear they cannot face other people’s pain.
But support groups understand this. They help people attending for the first time to feel accepted. You will be under no pressure to talk about your experiences.
You may choose to wait a while before attending a group or to get support in 1-to-1 sessions.
Stigma and suicide
Stigma happens when there are negative beliefs about suicide or the people affected by it. You may worry about stigma or experience stigma from other people.
This could be that people are:
- avoiding you
- judging you or the person who died
- assuming things about the person who died
- blaming someone for the death
Stigma can lead to isolation or unfair treatment. This can make your grief and mourning more difficult. It can cause stress and make it hard to talk about your feelings. You may also feel the need to be strong for others.
But keeping your grief hidden can lead to ongoing stress. You are not alone in experiencing stigma. If you feel isolated or unable to cope, it is important to get support.
When to get help
It may take some time, but many people find support from family and friends is enough.
Some people feel that they are not entitled to support after someone dies by suicide. They may feel they do not deserve support or that other people's grief is more important. Whatever your connection to the person who died, you can talk about your feelings and how the death affects you.
Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:
- you are worried about how you are coping
- your grief is intense and does not ease
- you are worried about your physical or emotional wellbeing
- you feel agitation, depression, guilt or despair that does not go away
- you have serious and persistent thoughts or plans to end your own life
Understanding suicide and helping others
Being bereaved by suicide can be emotionally devastating. You may not be ready to handle anything to do with suicide or other people’s grief.
In time, some people find it helpful to:
- learn about the psychology of suicide
- get involved in suicide prevention and helping others
Taking action can be comforting. But getting involved in a project or training on suicide prevention before you are ready might delay your healing process. Some people find it takes 6 months to 1 year to feel ready.