How can I help myself?
In the time of bereavement, it becomes even more important to take care of yourself. This means trying to eat well (even if your appetite is reduced), taking walks or exercise, making time to rest and sleep, and taking time out for yourself. Some people use alcohol or drugs to try to feel better but these may only worsen the situation in the longer term. Try to be kind and compassionate towards yourself in this difficult time, remembering there is no correct way to grieve and there is no such thing as a “wrong” thought or feeling. You may have less energy and motivation at this time, and you may need to reduce the number of demands being placed on you. You may find comfort in friends and family at this time, through talking about the loved one who has died, discussing other issues weighing on your mind, making small talk, or simply sitting together. It is ok to reach out for practical or emotional support: because of the sudden and traumatic nature of suicide, many people bereaved by suicide need a helping hand.
When should I look for outside help?
Many people who experience suicide bereavement can benefit from professional bereavement counselling. You may have been bereaved previously and have come to terms with it on your own. However, suicide is unique because of its suddenness, trauma, and the element of choice associated with it. With such bereavement, a professional counsellor can help you in several ways, depending on your current needs. Their role can be as a supportive listening ear where you can express your thoughts and feelings with an independent, non-judgmental person. They can also help you to make sense and meaning out of your loss.
In the early days after a suicide death, you may want to speak with someone supportive about how you are feeling. The shock you are experiencing may be overwhelming. You might benefit from a gentle listening ear to assure you that you are not losing your mind and that your feelings of sadness, fear and anger are to be expected. A professional bereavement counsellor will recognise that you are still in the early stages of grief and shock and will provide a safe and supportive space for you to express your thoughts and feelings.
Later, beyond the initial shock, a professional counsellor can help you to come to an understanding of how this happened and how you can integrate this experience gradually into your life in a meaningful way. This does not mean that you forget the person you have lost, but rather that you find a new way to live in the world after this profound change. Grief therapy is especially important if you are experiencing many of the following:
|Persistent, intense yearning or longing for the deceased loved one|
|Frequent feelings of intense loneliness or emptiness|
|Repetitive negative thoughts about life without the deceased loved one, or repetitive urges to join the deceased|
|Preoccupying thoughts about the deceased that impact your ability to carry out everyday tasks|
|Rumination about the circumstances of the death|
|Frequent disbelief or inability to accept the death|
|Persistent feeling of being shocked, stunned, or emotionally numb since the death|
|Recurrent feelings of anger or bitterness regarding the death|
|Difficulty trusting or caring about others since the loss|
|Experiencing pain or other physical symptoms the deceased person had, hearing the voice of the deceased, or seeing the deceased person|
|Intense emotional reactions to memories of the deceased|
|Avoidance or preoccupation with places, people, and things related to the deceased or death|
How can I access professional help?
Just as every person grieves uniquely, their bereavement support needs vary too. Some people prefer sitting individually with a counsellor while others prefer speaking on the phone or joining a group of people with similar experiences. There are several routes to accessing different types of bereavement support.
Your GP can be your gateway into many relevant services. For example, if you have a medical card and are suffering from loss, depression, anxiety, panic reactions, stress, or relationship problems, your GP can refer you to Counselling in Primary Care. Your GP can also provide you with a referral to mental health services, if you are suffering from moderate to severe mental health problems. Finally, your GP may be aware of good-quality counsellors or support groups in your area that they can recommend.
An alternative route to relevant services is self-referral, whereby you can contact a service directly or ask a family member or friend to do it.
- The Psychological Society of Ireland provides a list of specially trained psychologists and psychotherapists who specialise in bereavement on its website.
- In primary care, the usual routes of psycho-social treatment such as Counselling in Primary Care and mental health services may be appropriate. In some areas, (such as the South East of the country), GPs can refer clients bereaved by sudden death to free counselling through a written request to the Regional Bereavement Care Liaison Officer.
- For children bereaved by suicide, Barnardos provides a face-to-face suicide bereavement service for children in Cork and Dublin, and a helpline (01 473 2110) from 10am-12pm Monday to Thursday.
- Samaritans is an organisation that provides support for those who need to talk through their concerns, worries and troubles. Their helpline (116123) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is free of charge. They also are contactable by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by dropping in to one of their branches in Athlone, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Ennis, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Newbridge, Sligo, Tralee, and Waterford.
- Túsla Family Resource Centre can also help clients navigate available resources in your area and provide counselling and support.
- An informative and evidence-based website for people bereaved by suicide is Healthtalkonline.
There are several additional pathways to services.Schools and colleges often have counselling services available and your workplace may have an Employee Assistance Programme that provides free access to counselling services.
If your first bereavement support experience is not what you hoped for, please try not to be discouraged. There are many quality services out there but it may take more than one attempt to find an approach that is a good fit for you. Also, what is helpful two weeks after the death may be different from what you find helpful one year later. It’s ok to change your preference and seek out alternatives. The most important thing is that you have the support you need when you need it.
Some parents delay their own counselling because they are focussed on making sure their children are coping. While it is important to ensure that children receive the support they need, remember that you can provide a model for your children. Taking care of yourself will have positive effects on your child’s recovery too.
Spirituality, religion and beliefs
Spirituality, beliefs or religious faith can be a source of strength and may give you hope and comfort after losing a family member or friend to suicide. This can help you understand and make sense of your loss. You may find support and guidance from your church or your beliefs. However, people who experience death by suicide, often review and question their faith and beliefs. It is likely that long held beliefs that once helped you to make sense of life or were a comfort in difficult times, are now challenged or no longer have meaning. You may find it helpful to discuss this with a friend or a professional.