Teach Me

How Support Groups Can Help You Cope With A Loved One’s Suicide

After learning about the death of someone from suicide, a silence falls as people often are left speechless. At the same time, questions flood your mind.

Fortunately, I have never lost someone close to me to suicide. The number of people who choose to take their own lives in the county where I live is high, however. That left me wondering about the people impacted by suicide. How do they come to terms with the loss? Where do they get help?

I reached out to Banner Health Behavioral Health Service Senior Manage Shelly Cox, MS, LPC. Cox works with the Assessment and Referral Team in Northern Colorado and explained the benefits of support groups for people who have been impacted by suicide.

Why are suicide support groups important for a family or individual who has lost a loved one to suicide?

There is no loss of a loved one that causes more self-questioning than suicide. Why did they do it? What could I have done? Is it because of something I did or did not do? If I had only … The act is so against human nature it is difficult to understand. The mixture of thoughts and emotions is unlike losses from other diseases or accidents. Suicide is a choice to leave those still alive, forever with no opportunity for closure.

Because of the nature of suicide it is important to share it with others who have been through it. A survivor’s support group offers a place to be understood and accepted. It can be an extremely helpful tool for the difficult task of healing and going on.

What does a support group facilitated by a professional offer that conversation with friends or loved ones might not?

After the suicide of a loved one, it is common to feel isolated. Each experience is unique and people have difficulty understanding what has happened. For those who have not gone through this type of loss, it brings up all kinds of conflicted emotions and sometimes responses. People don’t know what to say or what to do to help. In this vacuum of understanding, they often resort to things they’ve heard or read. Sometimes their questions can feel like blame or shame. No one knows what to do to make it not have happened and that is the only thing that can fix it. Since that is not a possible option they do the best they can with what comes to mind. A behavioral health professional can guide conversations to help participants learn ways to cope with their loss.

Do you have advice for people who want to provide support to a friend who has been impacted by suicide?

My advice is to use what they know about their friend and how they like to be comforted. Sit with them, listen to them, put them to bed, feed them, vacuum the rug, help with the pets, answer the phone, sit with them in the sun, move them back out of the sun. Take your cues from what you know about them from before and help with the tasks of daily living. Listen, listen again and again. No judgment, no advice, only presence and acceptance and assistance.

Say the obvious truth of, “I know you are in pain I can’t even imagine, I want to hear it even if I can’t understand it like you do. I am right here, I’m not going anywhere, we will figure out the steps to survive this together.

How does grieving a death by suicide differ from other types of death?

The differences are numerous. It requires the acceptance of the unacceptable. It takes longer. The person with the information you need is no longer available. Self-blame and sometimes harsh religious beliefs are additional struggles and take more time and support.

People who struggle with a mental illness or depression usually try over and over again to live with their symptoms as long as they can in order not to hurt others. They try to cope as long as they can in order to not hurt others.

In the end, they come to believe that they are some kind of burden and that others would be better off without them. They also come to the place of not being able to endure the symptoms and they seek relief.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death across all age groups in the United States. The institute offers a wealth of information about suicide prevention, including treatments, therapies and action steps for helping someone in emotional pain.

To learn more about Banner Health support groups available in your area, visit www.bannerhealth.com.

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