Suicide. You may have noticed certain feelings rise to the surface just from reading that word. Maybe fear, dread, confusion or an overall feeling of darkness. Let’s talk about it and find ways to better support one another.
One of the first lessons I was taught about suicide is the language we use to describe it. We often say that someone committed suicide, but instead, we should say died by suicide. Saying someone committed suicide criminalizes the individual who has died as if they have committed a crime. Suicide is not a crime – it is a cause of death that happens when one’s distress overpowers their ability to cope with it. When describing a suicide to children, we often say it is a “disease of the brain.”
I’d imagine just by reading up to this point, you feel a little down or solemn. That is okay! One of the best things we can do to support another individual is to enter the difficult space with them. Reflecting on this topic brings to mind two important avenues: 1.) Supporting people who have experienced a loss by suicide and 2.) Having conversations about suicide. Both are areas that are often left alone or may seem a little scary to approach.
Let’s start with supporting someone who has experienced a death by suicide:
- Say their loved ones’ name and share stories. Often times in a suicide death, the way the person died is discussed or remembered more than the person. So, share the stories, share memories, and continue saying the individual’s name. This was a person who deserves to be honored and a family that deserves to remember the presence of their loved one. They say a person dies twice, once when they die, and the second when people stop saying their name so keep saying their name!
- Offer concrete ways you can help. We often find ourselves saying “if you need anything, I’m here” which is well-meaning and kind-hearted but individuals who are grieving do not necessarily have energy left to identify what they need in the moment and they shouldn’t be tasked with doing so. Offer concrete ways to help so you can take that job away from them. “I can drop off some dinner this weekend” or “I can watch the kids if you need a break” or “I can be at the coffee shop in an hour if you want to talk” are all a good start.
- Provide information on support groups or individual therapy. Doing the research and providing a list of options can be a big relief for someone who is grieving. In my time in a grief agency, we received numerous calls from friends of loved ones and several of the participants at our support groups first entered the building because they were given information by a friend.
- Continue including them! Even though the grieving individual may need space to be alone and process their feelings, continue to invite them to your social activities. Grief can be isolating so remember to continue including them. When they’re ready, they’ll come.
- Keep an open dialogue. We often feel that we rather say nothing than say the wrong thing. In grief, it’s hard to know exactly what to say and that’s a good place to start. Saying “I have no idea what to say right now” or “I keep thinking of what I should say and I just don’t know” can be more comforting to the individual than hearing silence from trying to craft the perfect words. It also shows your honesty and willingness to be open.
Lastly, let’s continue to have conversations about suicide. We know the staggering number of suicide deaths but we don’t always talk about the number of attempts or thoughts. Odds are, a friend, family member, acquaintance, or colleague has thought about it. Let’s make it clear to our peers that we are comfortable to sit with them in their struggles, to hear what it’s like, and let’s precede the conversation with stories that demonstrate our willingness to talk about the subject. Whatever your situation is, remember that you are not alone in the feeling and someone is ready to hear about it.
Text TALK to 741741
If you are a social worker in this arena, remember to find ways to compartmentalize the stories you hear and the people you support. This will help you feel fully present at work and fully present at home.
Is there anyone that came to mind that you feel you should reach out to?