When someone commits suicide it affects everyone who knew that person. Most adults are able to go through the process of grief in a healthy way, learning to accept the loss and moving on with their lives, never forgetting the loss of this person, but not letting it halt their life completely.
Teens may struggle more with the suicide of a friend or family member more than an adult. Suicide is devastating to the family, friends and community of a young person who has taken his or her own life, but it can damage teens’ sense of security and bring up feelings that they struggle to cope with. The impact a suicide will have on a teen depends on how close he or she was to the person and whether or not they were exposed to the trauma of witnessing a distressing scene. If a suicide victim was part of the school community, the reaction of distress can be magnified because so many teens at the school are also grieving and upset at the same time. While there may be programs to assist teachers and students, it is vital that parents support their children at home during this time as well.
Teens will often react with a number of different emotions. Suicide will often bring out certain prominent feelings, namely guilt and anger, which will be accompanied by fear and despair. Young teens will often feel guilt because they worry that there was something they could or should have done to prevent the person’s death. Anger will also be present for a teen who has lost a loved one to suicide, triggered by a sense of injustice. Teens may wonder why no one did anything to prevent the death, in an effort to place blame. While blame is not a useful way to cope it is a way to distance oneself from the situation and tends to break down slowly, allowing for proper healing later one.
Parents should consider the following tips to help their teen deal with the grief and confusion that comes with the suicide of a friend or family member:
- Be available and reliable: Being calm and available to teens provides major support for them. Being a steady presence will help them, as their world may seem pretty unstable at this time.
- Don’t hide emotions: When parents allow their teen to see the anger and/or sadness they’re experiencing along with them may help them by letting them know their emotions are justified, too. It may also prevent them from considering suicide, as they would see how it would affect those they love.
- Talk about the suicide with the teen: It can help teens to process their emotions about the loss of a loved one to suicide by talking about it, especially if they witnessed something traumatic. Try to make sure that teens don’t feel they should be held responsible for what the person did. However, be careful not to dwell on it, as this could make things seem worse.
- Don’t focus on the suicide: While talking about what has happened, don’t let it envelop daily life. Take time to just be together at a sporting event or movie, for example.
- Ask teens about their feelings: Doing this lets teens know their emotions are important. It also lets them know that this event is recognized as a big deal for everyone, including them.
- Be understanding: Teens may lash out in anger at questions or attempts to help. While this shouldn’t be encouraged, try to be understanding and keep calm.
- Encourage teens to attend the funeral: While this may be hard for teens it is good for them to get together with other teens to share their feelings about the suicide victim and take comfort with each other.
- Try being extra supportive: Making their favorite foods, hugging or cuddling (if they accept it) can work wonders. The extra comfort may help them through the process if they are having a hard time emotionally.
For teens, losing a friend or family member to suicide can be earth-shattering, but with a good support system and time, they will be able to process the event in a healthy way. Some teens may struggle with grief and loss more than others, turning to self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If this happens it is best to seek professional help.