Surviving Suicide

by Susan Ripley, MA CWLC-S; Director of Licensing   

After a suicide or suicide attempt, there are many emotions that affect those that survive. There are the stages of grief we move through, and it can sometimes take quite a bit of time to move through a stage.  I’ve heard comments full of regret such as “If only I’d known he was so sad” or “I wish I had known...I would’ve tried to help,” as well as comments full of anger such as, “That’s such a selfish act,” or “How could he do that to the people who loved him?”  Unless you understand the absolute despair that leads to the moment of an attempted or completed suicide, you will probably struggle with understanding the “why."

The Alliance for Hope organization shares this important message:

It is important to know that people can and do survive loss by suicide.  They are forever altered and may never stop missing their loved ones, but they do survive and go on to lead meaningful and contributory lives.

Help After a Loved One's Suicide

There are emotional, mental and even financial repercussions that arise in the wake of a suicide. It can be very difficult for survivors to endure the emotional impact while also trying to handle personal matters/business for the deceased. The key to surviving a suicide is to finding supports that are available to help you through this time.

It’s important to remember as a survivor of a suicide, that it is normal to suffer with your own depression, sadness and maybe even loneliness for some time.  It is imperative that you take care of your own mental health needs by receiving the support needed.  

Risks of Glamorizing Suicide

When reaching out to others about your loss (as you should), it is very important to keep in mind that you do not want to inadvertently glamorize suicide, thus putting others at risk.  There are many people suffering from their own despair, and using social media or other public sources to share your opinions could affect the decision someone else may be making about their own situation. Use caution and discernment when posting to social media, discussing your loss with media outlets, etc. 

In an article from the National Institute of Mental Health, some important points are made on the discussion surrounding/media coverage of a suicide and possible affects, including:

  • More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.
  • Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
  • Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.  


Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., "Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide"). Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide
and minimize prominence (e.g., "Kurt Cobain Dead at 27").
Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals. Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.
Describing recent suicides as an "epidemic," "skyrocketing," or other strong terms. Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use non-sensational words like "rise" or "higher."
Describing a suicide as inexplicable or "without warning." Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Include the "Warning Signs" and "What to Do" sidebar (from p. 2) in your article if possible.
"John Doe left a suicide note saying…". "A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner."
Investigating and reporting on suicide similar to reporting on crimes. Report on suicide as a public health issue.
Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide. Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.
Referring to suicide as "successful," "unsuccessful" or a "failed attempt." Describe as "died by suicide" or "completed" or "killed him/herself."