Coping With the Shock of Suicide _ Variations Psychology_ Dr. Shinn.jpg

When a person dies by suicide, it sends a devastating shock wave through the world around them. Whether they were your personal friend or a celebrity that you admired, being connected with a person who dies by suicide can make you feel overwhelmed with confusion and despair. The relationships and role models we build throughout life have a tremendous impact on our mental health, and having that connection severed by suicide is incredibly traumatic.

While there’s no easy road through the grieving process, knowing what to expect can help. If someone you know or admired died by suicide, here are a few things you should know:

It’s ok to be angry

If the person had been killed by a drunk driver, you’d know exactly who to be mad at. You’d be enraged with the person who made the choice to drive intoxicated. When a person dies by suicide, however, it’s a bit more confusing. They are both the victim and the person who caused their death. It’s normal to feel abandoned, angry, or resentful as you process what’s happened.

“Why” may never be clear – and that’s ok

Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died by suicide in 2017. His family posted a video showing Chester smiling and playing games with his loved ones just hours before taking his life. Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint why a person became suicidal - a traumatic event, extreme stress, or mental illness are common instigators. But in cases like Chester’s, suicide was something that no one saw coming. The factors leading to suicide are often unclear, and acceptance can only happen when you realize you may never fully understand “why.”

Grief comes in waves

Some days you’ll feel at peace, accepting that no one could not have prevented what happened. Other days, you might be triggered by a sentimental memory of the deceased and feel overwhelmed with emotion. It’s normal for symptoms of grief to ebb and peak. When you are having an especially bad day, remember that your feelings will subside in time.

Self-care is not betrayal

When a person dies by suicide, guilt and depression can curb your motivation to take care of yourself. Simple acts like brushing your teeth, eating healthy, and exercising can feel burdensome. Reestablishing your routine will help bring back a sense of normalcy as you work through your grief. Allow yourself to experience both mundane and enjoyable activities, as routine and laughter are both important parts of the healing process.

Therapy isn’t sold in pint glasses

After experiencing the loss of someone by suicide, it can be tempting try to numb your void with alcohol. Be cautious about using substances to cope with your grief, as this does not help you work through your pain but only masks it until you sober up again. Alcohol exacerbates depression and anxiety, making you feel even worse once your buzz wears off. This can lead to you becoming dependent on alcohol to cope with your symptoms, worsening your depression and making recovery significantly more challenging.

Pain has a ripple effect

It’s common to have suicidal thoughts in the wake of a person’s death. Our brains want to make sense of things, and when something is insensible, our minds tend to replay the hurtful event repeatedly as we try to make sense of it. This confusion may cause you to fixate on death and despair, resulting in overwhelming feelings of depression and hopelessness. Know that the intensity of these feelings will fade in time. If your suicidal thoughts are unrelenting, seek help from a specialist right away. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can help direct you in getting help, either for yourself or for a loved one in need.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

When in doubt, lean

You may feel like isolating yourself, staying in bed, and wallowing in depression for a while. As tough as it may be, push yourself to get out of the house and lean on the support of your friends and family. Isolating yourself may only worsen your depression. Stay connected to supportive people, and limit your time spent with people who tell you how you should think or feel.

Cultures may clash

Different cultures and religions have varying views on suicide, making it something that many people are unwilling to acknowledge or discuss. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding suicide only worsens the problem, discouraging those in need from getting help.

You can change perceptions

As you process your grief, don’t forget that you have the power to make a difference by talking about suicide. Your voice can empower those in need to seek help and acknowledge that sufferers should be recognized and supported without shame. You can advocate through social media, online or in-person support groups, speaking engagements, or by educating your close friends and family. Start by learning how to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors to help prevent future deaths by suicide. A great resource is the Center for Disease Control’s listing of risks and protective factors.  

Hope lies ahead

When their loss is still new, it may feel like you’ll never be happy again. The people that we meet, love, or admire are a defining part of our lives, and their loss is excruciating. This pain reflects the intense bonds we are blessed to experience as human beings. While birthdays and other milestones may be especially tough from year to year, know that the intensity of your grief will lessen over time, and someday you will be able to embrace both the happy and sad memories. Believe that no matter how dire things may feel today, the future holds hope, peace, and acceptance.  

Variations can help

While your loved ones might not have the words to say, a specialist in depression and grief will understand your needs and will listen, validate what you are experiencing and help you discover ways to cope with your loss.

Variations Psychology has experts with a wide range of specializations

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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Center for Disease Control

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

University of Texas Suicide Prevention Program

The Mayo Clinic

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn, M.M. (2018). Coping with the Shock of Suicide. Psychologically Speaking.

[Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from