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Supporting someone bereaved through suicide

Grief following the death of someone close who has taken their own life will differ from one person to another depending on the nature of the individual’s relationship with the person who has died, their previous experiences of suicide, and their age and cultural beliefs.

At the same time, there are many common experiences for those grieving the death of someone close who has taken their own life (the bereaved), including a desire to know why the person took their life. A range of complex emotional and physical responses may leave them feeling overwhelmed, isolated, stigmatised or alone. In the initial stages following a death by suicide, people may be traumatised and unable to seek help. They may be severely depressed and at risk themselves of self-harm or taking their own life.   

It is important for those dealing with the suicide of someone they know to be given the opportunity to talk and grieve freely, openly and without judgment so that they may begin the process of learning how to move forward with their lives following their loss.

The care and understanding of family and friends can support those bereaved by suicide to face the complexity of their journey through grief, and to access professional supports if their distress becomes overwhelming.

If you know someone bereaved by suicide, you can help by:

Listening to them:

  • allow the person to express their feelings openly and let them do most of the talking. They will feel relieved that someone is prepared to listen to them

Keeping them safe:

  • if you think someone may be severely depressed or at risk of harming themself, ask them directly. Don’t be afraid to do this as it will show them that you care. Where possible, do not leave them alone for long periods of time and ask other reliable people to help you if needed

Seeking help: 

  • there are many services that can provide professional help including general practitioners (GPs), counsellors and psychologists. GPs are an important source of support in many cases, especially where they have known both the person who has died and their loved ones
  • individual or group counselling or therapy may benefit some people, while others may prefer to seek support from people who have been through a similar experience. Several self-help groups and organisations have been developed by people bereaved by suicide to provide this kind of support
  • online counselling may also help people who are finding it difficult to leave their home
  • do not hesitate to call 000 for emergency services

Suggesting that they access suicide bereavement help online or join a support group:

  • in South Australia, there are many support groups for people bereaved by suicide including Living Beyond Suicide, Bereaved Through Suicide and MOSH
  • suicide bereavement support groups in other states in Australia can be accessed via Support After Suicide
  • South Australians may also access a Suicide Prevention Network in their local community. These networks seek to raise awareness, increase compassionate conversation and break down stigma associated with mental illness and suicide
    • To see if there is a Suicide Prevention Network in your area, you can check this list
    • To learn more about your local Suicide Prevention Network, contact the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist at Health.OCPSuicidePrevention@sa.gov.au or by phone on 8226 1091.
  • the National Suicide Prevention Strategy has produced an information and support pack which can be downloaded for those bereaved by suicide or other sudden death
  • the Conversations Matter website produces a number of podcast resources if people would prefer to listen to the experience of others bereaved by suicide
  • for employers, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement has produced a useful resource

Page last updated: 10 September, 2020