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When someone takes their own life, family and friends can experience intense grief. This understandably affects how people are able to cope. Friends and colleagues who acknowledge this grief, listen, and offer support can make a big difference in helping people learn to deal with the loss.
When the person who died had a mental illness, family and friends often experience additional grief. It is common for people to feel confused, guilty, or even a sense of relief that the person is no longer suffering. They may also feel angry and disappointed that services have let them down. Because of stigma, they may feel they can’t talk about either the mental illness or suicide, adding to feelings of isolation.
Grief may also be experienced when a friend or family member is missing for a long time, but with the additional stress of not knowing if the person will return. If you know the family or a friend of someone missing long-term, the information in this factsheet could help you to support them.
If you're not sure what to say, ask ‘How are you feeling today?’ Tell the person you’re not sure what to say. Being honest will help to build trust.
Try to listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time.
Avoid making unhelpful statements such as ‘it’s God’s will’ or ‘things happen for a reason.’
The person might cry or not cry. One isn't necessarily better than the other.
By allowing the person to express their grief, you will be helping. Nothing you do can take away the sadness, but it is important to be there for them.
The way the person expresses grief may be different from the way you would express it. Don’t take anger personally.
People with lots of friends and family still need support from others. It’s important to have grief acknowledged by friends and colleagues so the person doesn’t begin to feel isolated.
You can do things that a professional person can’t, like going for walks, cooking a meal, remembering the birthday and anniversaries of the person who died, or just being there.
Ask the bereaved person how they feel about this. Reassure them you're happy to talk about mental illness if they want.Find out some information so you know something of what the person may have been experiencing. Be compassionate and understanding about difficulties the illness may have caused in their relationship, and encourage them to talk to a bereavement counsellor if they are not coping or do not feel they can talk to anyone else.
Be prepared for possible emotional effects you may feel when supporting a bereaved person, including:
It is important to look after yourself and be aware of how supporting a friend or colleague may affect you. Talk to a trusted friend or seek help from a health professional if you find you are not coping.