Grieving a suicide loss is incredibly complex. There are common treads that appear to be consistently picked up, revisited, woven, dissected, and fretted over as we move through that grief: the question of why, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. To the first, there is likely never a simple answer… it is a ravishing storm without a straight line between cause and effect.
I call the second thread the “if only” sliding doors; “if only I had (fill in the blank), “then maybe”… I think everyone in the inner circle of suicide loss is likely to encounter feelings of guilt. Looking directly at the cause of guilt or blame, it is helpful to flip the sliding door scenario to “if I had known he/she was/they were suicidal, I would have (or would never have) done …” One of the biggest challenges with suicide prevention is that it is not always clear that somebody is suicidal. Sometimes there are no notable signs, and sometimes the signs are only detectable in hindsight.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Although there are not always detectable signs that indicate a risk of suicide, when they are detectable, they often include:
a change in appearance or attitude
withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities and friends
giving away or making arrangements for important possessions
joking about suicide
Pay attention and don’t be afraid to talk about it if there is a concern. Studies show that if we sense someone might be at risk of suicide, asking them directly about it can actually be life saving. It is not an easy topic of conversation and deep-rooted stigma about suicide and mental health persists. It is important to reflect on our own thoughts and explore potential stigma associated with suicide; our perception will influence how we speak about suicide despite the sincerity of our desire to keep someone safe. It can be difficult to conceive that someone might actually be suicidal. Regardless of our own internal thoughts about suicide, if there is any concern, take the time to ask questions and listen without judgement. Listening non-judgementally will help to build trust so that you can work together and get help.
For Caregivers of Children: Spotting signs of suicide
For Youth: Check out Be There.org for information and guidance on how to be there for a peer.
For Caregivers of Youth: In her TEDMED talk A Simple, Powerful Way to Help Prevent Teen Suicide, Cheryl King shares insights from her experience as a Youth Suicide Interventionist and an innovated community-based intervention approach called “Youth-Nominated Support Team”.
For Educators: Check out Brené Brown’s SXSW EDU talk, Daring Classrooms