Speaking to a Family that’s been affected by a Suicide
Losing someone to suicide is a traumatic experience that takes time to grieve and process. It can be overwhelming and a bit scary to approach a friend who is grieving the loss of someone who committed suicide as you may fear you will say the wrong things.
Truth is, most of the time when someone has lost a loved one to suicide, they really just want to know they have someone there they can lean on. Letting them know you are sorry this happened, you are here for them, express any concerns you may have about their emotional state, be sincere in your delivery and most important listen more than you speak. Sometimes someone just needs to be held and told that they are not alone.
Tips on First Communication
Below you can find some examples of things you can say to a friend who is grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide:
- I am so sorry for your loss.
- I know you are heartbroken, but please know you are not alone.
- I am here for you.
Sometimes just embracing that person, giving them a hug, or allowing them to cry on your shoulder is more than enough.Know it is comforting at times just to sit quietly with someone.
Bring them some food. Most people who are grieving can’t seem to find the motivation to eat or to prepare food. Once they are ready to speak about the suicide, listen empathetically and if you can relate to their experience, share it with them. Do NOT however, minimize or compare their experience with yours.
It’s also good to honor the victim’s life in conversation, by taking about how great they were or fond memories.
Things you should avoid saying to a friend who has lost a loved one to suicide:
It is important to be empathetic when speaking to a friend who has lost a loved one to suicide. What you don’t say to them is equally as important as what you do say. Being physically and emotionally available for your friend is showing support and showing you care.
Be careful not to be judgmental when sharing your thoughts about the incident. If your thoughts are not supportive, simply refrain from sharing them to your grieving friend. Here, Police Chief Magazine and SPRC share tips on speaking with anyone affected by a recent suicide.
Checking In and Warning Signs to watch for
Part of supporting a friend who has lost a loved one to suicide is to watch out for red flags or signs of trouble. There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way; however, it is important that they find support if they are in a dark space for far too long. It is helpful for them to seek medical help or help from a mental health provider if you find that your friend is experiencing any of the examples below:
- If your friend is obsessed or only focused on speaking about the death
- If you suspect that your friend is so depressed that they may harm themselves
- If you notice that your friend is losing drastic weight
- If you notice that your friend is self-medicating, using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- If your friend becomes withdrawn for a long time
- If your friend seems angry or bitter for a long time.
- If you feel your friend begins to neglect themselves by not doing things such as showering, getting out of bed, leaving the house
- If your friend seems extremely depressed or unable to find joy in things that brought joy before
If you suspect your friend is experiencing any of the symptoms or behaviors listed above, please visit https://www.sprc.org/livedexperience/tool/resources-survivors-suicide-loss for additional resources.You can also visit https://cmhc.utexas.edu/bethatone/friendscopingsuicide.html for more warning signs to look out for.
How Law Enforcement and First Responders notify family members of suicide victims
Notifying family of suicide victims is a very difficult job. Being notified that someone you love is now deceased is quite the traumatic experience. It is a moment in time that will remain in their minds forever. Law enforcement officers as well as other First Responders often are the people tasked with this difficult job.
Officers or First Responders need to notify family members of the deceased as soon as they learn about the incident. Prior to notifying the families, they need to confirm that the victim is who they suspect. Often this is done through fingerprints, dental records, or even by finding identification and documentation belonging to the deceased.
After identifying the person deceased, the officers need to speak to any possible witnesses or neighbors and gather as much information about the scene of the suicide as possible. It is imperative that they are clear on the details of the scene so that they can provide the family with accurate information.
Once the person is identified and they have gathered all the details at the scene, officers plan accordingly. They decide who will be the officer to speak to the family. Once they arrive, they need to confirm that the person they are speaking to is the correct person as the next of kin should be the person to receive the news first and foremost. They will then disclose all details learned at the scene.
These notifications are done in person and are typically done in the presence of a second officer. Typically, the investigative officer is the person to relay the message to the family as they know most of the details about the scene.
Speaking with the Families of those affected by a Suicide
When speaking to family members of the deceased, officers need to be compassionate and respectful, they cannot be emotional or sugar coat the incident as most family members go into shock and aren’t able to absorb all that is being brought to their attention.
Their delivery is short and to the point. At times, they do need to repeat their statement as the family may be too distraught to process the news. Law enforcement will allow family a few minutes to compose themselves and they will possibly repeat the news if needed. Additionally, they need to be vigilant of the family’s reaction as they can be a danger to themselves or faint in some cases. They speak candidly and use words such as “dead or “deceased”. It’s important that they speak in a very direct manner so that they are not misunderstood.
Once the family member of the suicide victim processes the information, then law enforcement begins to walk them through the details at the scene of the suicide. If the family asks questions the officers do not have answers to, they need to let the family know they will investigate it. They should provide the family with a contact number in case the family needs to reach out with more questions in the future. For more information, please visit https://tacticalgear.com/experts/how-to-make-a-death-notification.
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