Those Left Behind: Survivors of Suicide

International Survivors of Suicide Day is November 21st. Western Michigan University defines a survivor of suicide as “a family member or friend of a person who died by suicide.” Suicide can make family members or friends rethink what they knew about their loved ones. Questions surrounding the suicide can include “What did I miss?” or “Why didn’t they talk with me?” Family members and friends can feel many emotions, including:

  • Denial
  • Pain
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Despair
  • Disbelief
  • Hopelessness
  • Stress
  • Sadness
  • Numbness
  • Rejection
  • Loneliness
  • Abandonment
  • Confusion
  • Self-blame anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression

The article”Self-Directed Violence” reports “nearly one million people die by suicide globally each year. Worldwide, suicide ranks among the top three leading causes of death.” The act of suicide doesn’t end with the death of a loved one. Those left behind bear emotional scars.


Suicide affects everyone differently, and many may internalize their grief. Coping with grief is unique. Nobody feels the same way at the same tie. While some work through their grief, others carry their feelings of loss for an extended period. There is no linear path of suffering – feelings of shame, anger, and self-blame fluctuate. Those left behind require love, support, and understanding.

Determining the Cause of Suicide

Suicide isn’t limited to any age, gender, or race. The research paper “Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief” finds suicide survivors who are left without an explanation often go out of their way to find out why their loved one committed suicide. The consequences of searching for reasons may cause someone to neglect their need for help. Their focus becomes on finding answers instead of helping themselves to heal.

Post-Suicide Stigma

After a loved one dies by suicide, many may not know what to do for those left behind. Some family members or friends keep the cause of death quiet. They fear telling somebody will change how others think of the person who died. A family member or a friend’s conflicted feelings towards suicide also affect how they handle grief. Shame, embarrassment, or guilt will hamper family or friends from talking about their loved one’s death. In some cases, the family members or friends feel they protect their loved one’s memory by not telling others how the death occurred.

Suicide and Mental Health

Different mental health disorders and alcohol or substance abuse are linked to an increased risk of suicide. Alcohol or substance abuse often occurs with those trying to cope with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Often, those with mental health disorders or substance abuse are in denial or don’t know how to reach out for help. A family member or friend can reach out and offer assistance in finding a group or a therapist. Unfortunately, some suffering from substance abuse or mental health disorder are adept at hiding their mental state.

Expressing Grief

Family members or friends experience many emotions after a loved one commits suicide. In some cases, a mental health disorder can develop as a direct result of suicide by a loved one. The paper “Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief” describes several types of grief, one of which is:

  • Complicated Grief ( CG ): CG is a bereavement reaction in which acute grief is prolonged, causing distress and interfering with functioning. The bereaved may feel longing and yearning that does not substantially abate with time and may experience difficulty re-establishing a meaningful life without the person who died. The pain of the loss stays fresh, and healing does not occur. The bereaved person feels stuck; time moves forward, but the intense grief remains.

Getting Help

We aren’t alone in our grief. An article published by Harvard Health says suicide survivors are more likely than other bereaved people to seek professional help for mental health. To help with the loss of a loved one, look for a skilled therapist who is experienced in working with grief after suicide. The therapist can support you in many ways, including:

  • Helping to process your grief 
  • Helping you to process unresolved issues or emotions
  • Helping you understand how grief can impact you if you already struggle with depression and anxiety
  • Provide you with support and understanding as you go through your unique grieving process

Grief affects everyone who is left behind. Some can grieve for a short period, while others are left trying to understand why their loved one committed suicide. Reaching out to a therapist or joining a suicide survivors group is a way to begin the healing process.

Family members and friends grieving a loss due to suicide experience a wide range of emotions. Stigma, not knowing how to ask for support, or not understanding why a loved one committed suicide, blocks some from coping with death. Conflicted emotions surrounding the suicide leave family members and friends wondering how to address their loved ones’ suicide. Survivors of suicide are left without a clear grasp of the cause of suicide. Many family members and friends are unclear about moving forward from suicide and struggling with their mental health. Coping with suicide doesn’t mean we are alone in our grief. There are survivors in suicide groups, grief groups, and individual therapy. Seeking therapy is integral to the healing process. We don’t need to suffer; we can talk with a therapist or a group about our feelings. Are you struggling with a loved one’s suicide? Call SokyaHealth at 866-932-1767. We are here for you 24/7.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.