A teen's suicide deeply affects many people. Family, friends, and others are left to grieve and to wonder why. The people left behind after a suicide are suicide survivors. Their life will never be the same.
Did You Know?
A suicide survivor is a person who was close to someone who committed suicide. At least 4.4 million people in the United States today are survivors of a loved one's suicide.
Derek, Age 18
Derek's brother, Randy, hanged himself 10 years ago. Randy's death hit Derek hard. He had idolized his older brother and tagged along wherever he went.
For years, Derek blamed himself for Randy's death. The two brothers had argued shortly before Randy died. Therapy helped Derek realize that Randy's depression caused his suicide. It wasn't Derek's fault.
Randy's death haunted Derek all through high school. Derek thought people wondered if he, too, would kill himself someday. Derek's parents constantly watched him. Derek wished he could be a normal kid with normal emotions.
Derek's grief and anger have subsided, but a certain sadness lingers on. This year was particularly hard for Derek. He graduated from high school, and he wanted Randy to be there. Sometimes he says to Randy, "See what you and I missed?"
Suicide survivors may experience some or all of the following strong emotions:
Shock.Shock may be the first reaction. Survivors feel numb. They cannot believe that the suicide happened. Shock is useful. It allows the brain to absorb the horrible news slowly.
Sorrow.Survivors feel great sadness. Some may cry and sob. Others will scream and wail. Still others may be silent.
Guilt.Survivors frequently blame themselves. They keep saying, "If only I had..., she would be alive today." They wonder if they said or did something to cause the suicide. Survivors may feel guilty because they are alive and the person is dead.
Anger. Suicide survivors often look for someone or something to blame. They feel anger toward themselves or others for not stopping the suicide. They feel anger toward the person who died for not asking for help. Survivors may feel deserted or rejected.
Relief. The person may have had a long battle with depression or other illness. Survivors may feel relief that the person's struggle is over. Such feelings of relief can make survivors feel even more guilty.
Depression. Survivors may fall into a deep depression. They may need medication and therapy to get better.
Suicidal urges. The emotional pain of suicide may cause survivors to feel suicidal. The suicide rate for survivors is eight times higher than the suicide rate for the general public.
Physical Symptoms Suicide survivors may have physical symptoms such as headaches. They may have trouble sleeping or feel constantly anxious. These symptoms are a response to their grief. Sometimes survivors treat their physical symptoms and avoid the emotions that cause them.
If You Are a Suicide Survivor
You may be the brother, sister, or friend of a teen who died by suicide. You are a suicide survivor. You know better than anyone that life following a suicide is difficult.
"My support group helped me the most. These people felt the same way I did. I could say anything to them and know they understood;' -Andrea, age 17, suicide survivor
Dealing With Emotions
It is all right to feel sad, angry, guilty, and other emotions. You have had a shocking loss. You need to accept your emotions and release them. It is dangerous and unhealthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside you.
Talking about your feelings can help. You might talk with a spiritual advisor, school counselor, or other trusted adult. If possible, talk with someone trained in grief counseling. Support groups for suicide survivors can connect you with others who know what you're going through. The Useful Addresses and Internet Sites section in the back of this book lists organizations that can help you.
You Are Not to Blame
Here is an important reminder. You are not responsible for another person's suicide. You cannot control the thoughts and actions of others just as no one can control your thoughts and actions.
Advice from Teens
"My advice to anyone who has been through a suicide is to talk, talk, talk." -Darrin, age 15, suicide survivor
More Ways to Cope
Here are more ways to cope with the suicide of a teen who was important to you.
Take care of yourself.You can cope with your emotions better if you're in good health. Eat balanced meals and exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Find activities and hobbies you enjoy doing.
Be open to new friendships and activities.You may feel disloyal if you make new friends or go out and have fun. This way of thinking doesn't help you. Reaching out to others will help you heal. You always can keep the person in your heart and mind.
Use your anger constructively.You may be mad that the person left you. Do something positive with your anger. Do good deeds for others.
Speak out about suicide.Tell others the facts about teen suicide.
If You Know a Suicide Survivor
You may not have been close to a teen who died by suicide. However, you may know someone who is a survivor. Here are some ways to help that person.
Don't avoid the survivor. Send a note, say hello, or call on the phone. You might invite the person to do something with you.
Listen. Let the person talk about his or her feelings. You don't need to offer advice. Just having someone listen can help the person work through his or her grief.
Provide practical help. Suicide survivors often feel confused for a time. They may be unable to focus on daily activities. You can help by running errands, baby-sitting, and much more.
Write a letter. Include your favorite memories of the teen who died. Tell why you'll miss the person.
Every 100 minutes a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.
Jefferson High School
Students at Jefferson High School were stunned. Two of their classmates, a popular girl and boy, had killed themselves.
The day after the suicides, the principal called an all-school assembly. He wanted to discuss the suicides openly and allow the students to ask questions. The principal told the facts of the deaths. He asked the students to think about other choices the teens might have made. He was careful not to make the teens seem brave or noble.
After the assembly, students could go to "safe" rooms to talk privately with mental health counselors. The school also sent letters to all the parents listing the warning signs of suicide. The quick response of Jefferson's principal and staff helped the students begin to heal.
- Peacock, Judith; Chapter 8: the survivors; Teen Suicide; 2000.
Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information regarding coping for survivors of teen suicide. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bamwine, P. M., Jones, K., Chugani, C., Miller, E., & Culyba, A. (2020). Homicide survivorship and suicidality among adolescents. Traumatology, 26(2), 185–192.
Talley, D., Warner, Ş. L., Perry, D., Brissette, E., Consiglio, F. L., Capri, R., Violano, P., & Coker, K. L. (2021). Understanding situational factors and conditions contributing to suicide among Black youth and young adults. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 58, Article 101614.
Zaborskis, A., Ilionsky, G., Tesler, R., & Heinz, A. (2019). The association between cyberbullying, school bullying, and suicidality among adolescents: Findings from the cross-national study HBSC in Israel, Lithuania, and Luxembourg. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 40(2), 100–114.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
According to Peacock, what are seven powerful emotions that suicide survivors may experience? Record the letter of the correct answer the