Its quite the wave of emotions that hits you when you find out that there has been a suicide.
It doesn’t even matter if you knew the individual or not. Of course, if you knew them, knew their face, passed them in the halls, that makes it more personal. And it goes without saying that if you really knew them, the news is like hitting a brick wall at 100mph.
This particular post, however, is for you – the passerby – the one who isn’t immediately connected with the individual who is no longer with us. Perhaps you are a teacher, or a youth leader, or a pastor, or maybe you worked in the same building.
I have been that person many times. The person who doesn’t have the first-degree contact with someone who has died by suicide, but I have definitely been affected by the loss of life. Especially as a youth leader, when there is a young suicide in the community, I used to ask myself, “How is this going to affect our youth group? How can I as a youth leader be sympathetic to what has happened?”
So, here are some facts for you to consider:
1. When a suicide happens, it makes the people impacted by the death at a much higher risk for suicide themselves. This is especially true for youth. The amount of people impacted by a suicide is extremely large. Even a student who has never been in contact with the deceased may still be affected. What this means is, especially in school and youth group environments, a suicide must be handled in a very delicate and deliberate way to reduce the risk of suicide contagion (copycat suicides).
2. When a suicide happens, those affected may have a wide range of emotions and not know how to deal with them. It’s common for the first couple of days to be in shock. It’s very important during this time to let people know that it is okay to discuss their feelings, and there are no “right” or “wrong” feelings during this time.
3. Talking about the suicide helps. Suicide is not a common conversation; people don’t want to bring it up. Talking about the suicide will not “give someone the idea”. Rather, talking about what happened will allow people to express their emotions and know that they are not alone in their confusion and grief. *Note: It is important to talk about the suicide correctly. Do not glorify or romanticize the suicide, and do not discuss details on how the suicide happened (hanging, cutting, overdose, etc.)
4. Take the opportunity to turn this tragedy into a learning moment. Many people agree that mental health is not discussed enough and is not taught enough. If a suicide rocks your community, this means the floodgates have been opened and the conversations need to follow. The worst possible thing to do is ignore it.
We’re going to be adding some great resources in the upcoming weeks that will help assist you in your response to a suicide in your community. And, as always, if you have specific questions, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to help you in your unique circumstance.
Thanks as always for your continued support!