While you should never try to force your friend to open up when he/she is not ready, being able to have this conversation when they are ready is important. Being able to discuss the enormity of the loss without being afraid and showing you can be there with their pain can be one of the most helpful things a friend can do.
- Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Let the grieving person know that it’s OK to cry in front of you, to become angry, or to break down. Don’t try to reason with someone over how he/she should or shouldn’t feel. Your friend should feel free to express feelings knowing that you are willing to listen without judgment, argument, or criticism.
- Be willing to sit in silence. It’s not your job to get your friend to start talking. Instead, be willing to be present and show you are ready to listen when he/she is ready to speak. If you can’t think of something to say, you can show your support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
- Let your friend talk about the suicide. Your friend may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in great detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.
- Offer comfort without minimizing the loss. Let your friend know that what he or she is feeling is OK. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience, if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to his or hers.
- “I know how you feel.” We can never know how another may feel. Instead, it may be more helpful to ask your friend how he or she feels.
- “Look at what you have to be thankful for.” Your friend knows they have things to be thankful for, but part of grieving is being able to experience the feelings of sadness and loss.
- “They are in a better place now.” Your friend may or may not share your religious beliefs. It’s best to keep your personal spiritual beliefs to yourself unless asked.
- “This is behind you; it’s time to get on with your life.” Moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace. Giving room to grieve is important in the recovery process.
- Saying, “You should…” or “You will…” Unsolicited advice is rarely helpful. Instead, you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might…”
It is not uncommon for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused, angry, or disconnected from others. If the intensity of these emotions does not ease in time, professional mental health resources can help. Sometimes someone who has experienced a loss by suicide will have suicidal thoughts him/herself. It is important to know the warning signs of suicide and, should you feel concerned, to ask your friend directly about thoughts of suicide.
If you notice any of the following warning signs after the initial loss, especially if they continue for more than two months, encourage your friend to seek professional help.
- Extreme focus on the death
- Talking about dying or attempting suicide
- Talking about feeling the need to escape the pain
- Persistent bitterness, anger or guilt
- Difficulty making it to class and declining grades
- A lack of concern for his/her personal welfare
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Increase in alcohol or drug use
- Inability to enjoy life
- Withdrawal from others
- Constant feelings of hopelessness
- It can be hard to know how to bring up your concerns with your friend. If you’re worried about being perceived as invasive, use the following approach. “I am worried that you aren’t sleeping. There are resources that can help you.”
If a friend is considering suicide, get professional help immediately. If he/she is in a life-threatening emergency, or if you’re concerned that a friend may act soon on his/her suicide plan, call 911.