How to Talk to a Friend Who Has Lost Someone to Suicide

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Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

It can be hard to know how to comfort a friend who has lost someone to suicide. You may want to reach out to offer your support but may not know what to say or do. You may not know what they’re feeling or how to be with them in their process.

It can be helpful to understand some of the emotional experiences people typically have after they’ve lost someone to suicide, so you can better understand what your friend is going through.

This article explores some of the reactions people typically have to a loved one’s suicide and suggests some ways to support a friend who has lost someone to suicide.

Press Play to Learn More About Suicide & Suicidal Ideation

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychiatrist Mark Goulston, shares why people have suicidal thoughts, why you shouldn't blame yourself if you've lost someone to suicide, and what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts. Click below to listen now.

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Common Reactions to a Loved One’s Suicide

These are some of the emotional and behavioral reactions your friend may experience in the wake of their loved one’s suicide, according to Marianne Goodman, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and director of the JJPVA Suicide Prevention Clinical and Research Program:

  • Denial: Upon learning about the death, initial reactions often include surprise, shock, and disbelief. The person may feel numb and be in denial about the person’s death. They may walk into a room and expect to see their loved one sitting there or keep forgetting that they’re gone. The person may appear distraught, have poor attention, or display forgetfulness. They may withdraw and not speak or might repeat themselves.
  • Anger: Once the reality sets in, one often experiences intense pain, frustration, and helplessness at the loss. These feelings most often lead to anger and a sense of betrayal. The anger may take many forms, including anger at the person for leaving them or not reaching out for help. The person may also feel angry at others, at a higher being, or at life in general. Intense anger or rage may manifest as aggression, violence, irritability, impatience, and withdrawal from friends, family, or faith.
  • Bargaining: During the bargaining stage, the person may repeatedly think about what they could have done to prevent the death. They may wish against all odds to go back in time and prevent it somehow. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…”
  • Guilt: If the person believes there was something they could have done to prevent the death or that they are to blame for the death in any way, they may experience feelings of guilt and shame that can potentially become overwhelming.
  • Questioning: The person may have several questions about why their loved one’s suicide occurred. They may even question the meaning of life and their beliefs and values. If an explanation isn’t forthcoming or easily acceptable, they may start to make up false stories about what happened. 
  • Depression: With time, as one begins to more fully understand how the person’s death affects their life, profound sadness can occur. This may take the form of sleep problems, decreased energy and motivation, loss of appetite, and an inability to concentrate. Some people also feel easily overwhelmed, lonely, hopeless, and unable to function.
  • Acceptance: Over time, one learns to accept the reality of their loved one's death. Some people understand that their loved one can't come back and the reality sinks in, yet they still cannot reach a place of acceptance because the pain is too unbearable. Acceptance looks like reaching a place where the pain is accepted and the person learns to live their life without their loved one.

It's important to note that everyone experiences grief differently and some people may jump right into depression after the initial shock.

Distressing Symptoms and Conditions

According to Dr. Goodman, a loved one’s suicide can also trigger the following symptoms and conditions in survivors:

  • Haunting thoughts or memories of their loved one’s death or of previous deaths they've dealt with
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts of death
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or complicated grief
  • Use of substances such as drugs or alcohol, to try to numb the pain
  • Thoughts of their own death and suicidal feelings
  • Dangerous or reckless actions, such as driving too quickly, because they feel numb or intensely angry, or they don’t care about life and don’t see the point of living

How to Offer Your Support

These are some ways to support a friend who has lost someone to suicide:

  • Reach out to your friend: Your friend might find it hard to take the first step and make contact with you. If you have heard about their loved one’s suicide, reach out to them as soon as you can. Understand that sometimes people may not respond because they need space to grieve their loss or don't have the energy for connection. It's important to continue to reach out, even if it's just to let your friend know you are thinking of them. This helps a grieving person feel less alone.
  • Acknowledge the circumstances: According to Dr. Goodman, it’s important to acknowledge the reality of their loved one’s death. For instance, you can say “I heard that ____ died by suicide.” Suicide is often shrouded by stigma, but by bringing it up, you can show your friend that you’re willing to discuss the circumstances of the death and support them fully.
  • Express your support: Let your friend know that you’re there for them and that they can count on you if they need anything. It can be helpful to offer tangible forms of support, such as volunteering to send them meals or babysitting their children. Sometimes people who are grieving don't know how or when to reach out for help. It can be incredibly valuable to do these things without them asking.
  • Share your memories: For many grieving people, talking about their loved one, even after years have passed, helps them feel like they haven't been forgotten. If you knew the person who died of suicide, share your memories of them with your friend. Dr. Goodman says it can be helpful to remember the person who died together.
  • Be willing to listen: Ask your friend how they’re feeling and encourage them to share their thoughts with you. Create a safe place for them to share their fears, anxieties, and uncomfortable thoughts, says Dr. Goodman. It's important to continue asking even after time has passed. A lot of people who go through grief feel they cannot talk about their pain after a period of time because they feel they are burdening others. Let your friend know you'll listen no matter how many years have passed.
  • Be genuine: It’s all right to let your friend know that you can’t imagine what they’re going through, but that you’re also grieving the loss, worried about them, and available to help in any way you can. Even if you don’t have all the answers, they’ll appreciate your honesty.
  • Spend time with them: Perhaps the most important thing is to be there for your friend and help them feel less alone, says Hilary Blumberg, MD, director of the Mood Disorders Research Program at the Yale School of Medicine. You don’t necessarily have to make them smile or laugh. It can simply be enough to be with them and do everyday things together like going for a walk, having dinner, or simply watching television.
  • Don’t minimize the loss: Everyone processes grief differently. Being patient with your friend's process is one of the most helpful things you can do. Don’t try to minimize their pain by comparing their situation to that of others, claiming to know what they’re feeling, or offering overly simplistic solutions to their problems.
  • Encourage them to seek help: If your friend’s thoughts become too distressing and they are unable to cope, Dr. Goodman recommends encouraging them to see a grief counselor. On the other hand, if their actions seem risky or they express suicidal thoughts, she suggests calling a crisis helpline.

A Word From Verywell

If your friend has lost a loved one to suicide, they are probably experiencing a range of difficult and painful emotions, such as shock, denial, grief, anger, betrayal, guilt, shame, loneliness, and helplessness.

Reaching out to your friend, expressing your support, and spending time with them can help let them know that they can count on you and share their feelings with you. It’s important to create a safe space where they can share their innermost thoughts with you without judgment.

Keep in mind that your friend may also experience distressing symptoms, thoughts of suicide, and mental health conditions as a result of their loved one’s suicide. Helping them feel supported and less alone can help them cope.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.