Losing someone to suicide is a devastating experience. And all ages are impacted by suicide loss – including youth. One in five teens has been exposed to the suicide death of a friend, relative or acquaintance and research suggests this increases the risk of suicide, especially for teens struggling with their own mental health.

Ways to Support

You can help support your child if they’ve lost someone to suicide. You’ll want to talk to them and ask them how they’re feeling. You can also make sure they understand:

  • Suicide is no one's fault.
    • It is common to struggle with questions like: "What could I have done differently? Why did this happen? Could I have prevented it? Was it my fault?" A big part of healing is learning to move forward with these unanswered questions. Suicide is complex, and many factors play a role. There is rarely a single cause or reason for a young person taking their own life. Constantly re-visiting questions such as why someone ended their life, can extend the mourning process and interfere with healthy grieving. However, with consistent support, it can also aid in finding meaning and making sense of the loss.
  • Grieving and healing look different for everyone.
    • Grief is a difficult process for anyone to go through. However, grieving a suicide loss comes with unique challenges. Some of the many possible emotions your teen may experience include shock, shame, guilt, abandonment, confusion and anger toward the deceased. A suicide loss survivor needs a safe space to process the loss. You can provide some of that by simply being there and listening without judgment, advice or criticism. Those who are grieving a suicide loss and do not have a strong support system may be more prone to self-harm and other risky behaviors to cope. You too may be grieving and caring for yourself is key.
  • Focusing on the good memories and honor your loved one can help with grieving.
    • Help your child remember the good times and focus on hope and forgiveness. Allowing your child to share their story at their own pace could be healing and empowering to themselves and others. Help them honor their loved one’s memory through a ceremony, art or advocacy. This can look like gathering with close friends and sharing their favorite memories, lighting a candle and saying a prayer, painting something that reminds them of their loved one, volunteering their time to help others or journaling what they wish they could have said. This allows for an opportunity to find a new identity and narrative, typically that of a survivor of suicide loss, which provides meaning and can also serve as a protective factor.
  • Connecting with others who have experienced a suicide loss can help with healing.
    • It is important for those experiencing a suicide loss to seek out supportive individuals. Stigma or excessive judgment can interfere with the healing process. This is especially relevant for teens who are heavily influenced by peers and highly value social acceptance. Finding other loss survivors who understand what your teen may be going through is helpful. Visit Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors.
  • Seeking help is often the right choice.
    • How caregivers view mental health can greatly impact help-seeking behaviors in teens. Caregivers who view seeking help positively make it easier for their teens to come to them for help when needed. You can help by sharing information on how and where to find crisis resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (dial 988), identifying symptoms and risk factors of mental disorders, expressing empathy and support and understanding the value of planning for your child’s safety.

Grief following a suicide death is often lasting, intense and complicated. Don’t be surprised if feelings and conversations come up months or even longer as your child thinks about it more. You may want to seek professional help for you and your child if you feel like you’re struggling to move forward in the healing process.

If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741-741. If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room.