International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 17. When someone loses a colleague or loved one to suicide, grief can be compounded by feelings of guilt, confusion and even anger and embarrassment. How can you help?
What You Can Do
CAPT Tara Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist for Navy Suicide Prevention Branch, OPNAV N171, offers these tips to help someone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one by suicide:
1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death. Extend your condolences, express your feelings of sorrow. Talking about the loss lets the person know you’re a safe and understanding per-son in whom they can confide.
2. Ask the survivor if and how you can help. Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there—not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. Be prepared to offer specific support, such as providing meals, offering childcare or a coffee break.
3. Encourage openness. Do your best to be non-judgmental and be prepared for a wide variety of emotional responses. There is no one way to grieve. Be accepting of however survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger.
4. Be patient. Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief. Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.
5. Be a compassionate listener. This means resisting the urge to try to “fix” things. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love. It’s perfectly okay to not know what to say or do. Simply being present is often the best support.
Every Sailor, Every Day
Losing someone to suicide can feel very isolating, not just for the immediate family, but for members of the entire community. Be physically and emotionally present for the grieving person. Strong relationships built on trust are key principles of resilience that can promote recovery after experiencing loss.
Every member of the Navy community is responsible for contributing to a culture that supports psychological and physical health, encourages seeking help for challenges and promotes a constructive dialogue about stress and suicide.
There are many resources available on Navy Suicide Prevention’s website at www.suicide.navy.mil to help you communicate safely about psychological health and suicide, find support and more. Confidential help is available through the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255) and your command chaplain. Additional resources for survivors of suicide loss are also available at: