How You Can Help Survivors

The loss of a loved one to suicide is devastating.  As a neighbor, friend, or concerned community member, you may be wondering if you should reach out and how to do so.  Your instinct to care is a valuable one and should be acted upon.  Needham is a community that cares about its members.  If you are unsure about what to do, contact those in the community who can offer suggestions.  Click on the Community link to see who you can talk to about reaching out to grieving friends and neighbors.  The following information from the American Association of Suicidology may be helpful to you.

Helping Survivors of Suicide: What Can You Do?

The loss of a loved one by suicide is often shocking, painful and unexpected. The grief that ensues can be intense, complex and long term. Grief and bereavement are extremely individual and unique processes. There is no given duration to grieving. Survivors of suicide are not looking for their lives to return to their prior state because things can never go back to how they were. Survivors try to adjust to life without their loved one. The following are common emotions experienced with grief: shock, denial, pain, numbness, anger, shame, despair, disbelief, depression, stress, sadness, guilt, rejection, loneliness, abandonment, and anxiety.  The single most important and helpful thing you can do as a friend is to listen. Actively listen, without judgment, criticism, or prejudice to what the survivor is telling you. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, survivors are often hesitant to openly share their story and express their feelings. In order to help, you must overcome any preconceptions you have about suicide and the suicide victim. This is best accomplished by educating yourself about suicide. While you may feel uncomfortable discussing suicide and its aftermath, survivors are in great pain and are in need of your compassion. Ask the survivor if and how you can help. They may not be ready to share and may want to grieve privately before accepting help.  Let them talk at their own pace; they will share with you when (and what) they are ready to. Be patient. Repetition is a part of healing and, as such, you may hear the same story multiple times. Repetition is part of the healing process and survivors need to tell their story as many times as is necessary. Use the loved one’s name instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. This humanizes the decedent; the use of the name of the person who died will be comforting.

You may not know what to say and that is okay. Your presence and unconditional listening is what a survivor needs.  You cannot lead someone through his or her grief. The journey is personal and unique to the individual. Do not tell survivors how they should act, what they should feel, or that they should feel better “by now”. Avoid statements like “I know how you feel;” unless you are a survivor, you can only empathize with how they feel.

If you know a child, teen, or adult who has experienced the death of someone close to them and you would like to help, the following resources can guide you:
This is the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Click on Surviving Suicide Loss, then Coping with Suicide Loss, then helping Friends and Family.
The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families provides information for helping teens and children who are coping with the death of a loved one.  Their book Helping Teens Cope with Death is an excellent resource and can be purchased from
A local program related to the Dougy Center, The Children’s Room Center for Grieving Children and Teenagers provides bereavement support for children, teens, young adults and families.  It is located in Arlington, MA.



Hurting yourself is NEVER
the right answer.
There are people who can help.

For immediate help call
911 or

Riverside Emergency Services

Newton Wellesley Hospital

To talk with someone call
Samariteen Hotline
1-800-252-TEEN (8336)

Samaritan Helpline
1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Support and Help Around You