After a Suicide Death: Ten Tips for Helping Children & Teens
1. Tell the truth:
It’s important to be honest with children and teens. They don’t necessarily need to know every single fact about a death, but they do need to hear truthful answers and information. Start with a short explanation of what has happened, and let their questions guide how much detail you provide.
2. Expect and allow for different emotions and feelings:
Feelings and grief reactions are influenced by many factors, including the age, personality and developmental level of the child. You may see a broad spectrum of emotions in children and teens, including anger, frustration, guilt, numbness, shock, sadness, relief, confusion, shame, fear, loneliness and embarrassment.
3. Talk openly about suicide:
Our society continues to stigmatize suicide, as well as the families of those left behind. It is often an uncomfortable and shocking topic that can leave people unsure of what to say. In light of this challenge, it is critical that kids have safe places where they can talk openly about the death without judgement and awkwardness.
4. Hold a memorial service:
No matter how difficult or painful the deceased person’s life or death may have been, grieving children and teens deserve the opportunity to say goodbye and to honor the person’s life.
5. Talk about and remember the person who died:
Don’t be afraid to talk about and remember the person who died. Remembering is part of grieving.
6. Share information about depression and mental illness:
Suicide is not usually a random act - it occurs in a context. Although no one knows what causes suicide, most people who die of suicide have experienced some form of depression or mental illness. It helps children to know that the person who died was in fact suffering from a kind of illness in his or her thinking.
7. Be prepared for fears:
After a suicide death, children have many fears. During these times, it is helpful for trusted adults to stay connected and listen to their questions and concerns. Offer reassurance without making promises such as, “This will never happen again.”
8. Inform the child’s school about the death:
Children spend a lot of time in school and a death affects not only family life but school life. That is why it’s important to inform a child’s teacher, counselor, coaches, and any adult support person in the school setting about the death. Talk with your child about what they would like in terms of sharing the news with their classmates and others in the school.
9. Provide outlets for grieving:
Play is a natural outlet of expression for children. While adults tend to talk out (or hold in) their grief, children are more likely to express it through play. This is one way you can validate their experiences and help them regain a sense of balance and control.
10. Respect differences in grieving styles:
Children’s grieving styles - even in the same family - can be very different. Some kids want to talk about the death, while others want to be left alone. Recognizing and respecting that each person grieves in his or her own way is essential.
Postvention is defined as actions taken after a death by suicide. This section contains many best practice resources and information for use in a variety of environments to ensure careful and sensitive care for families and communities impacted by a death by suicide.
Community Postvention Goals:
1. Reduce the risk of further suicidal behavior
2. Avoid glorifying or sensationalizing the suicide
3. Avoid vilifying the decedent
4. Identify youth who may represent a high-risk for suicidal behavior
5. Connect at-risk youth with mental health resources
6. Identify/alter environmental factors that may be influencing the process of
7. Provide long-term surveillance and analysis
Postvention in the Community
Due to the inherent vulnerability of many youth in response to suicidal behavior displayed by others, it is important that every school and community have a postvention response plan in place. Too often a school has found itself caught in a wildfire of suicidal behavior resulting in preventable deaths, injuries due to attempts and lives that are forever altered. Prevention is the key, and incorporating suicide prevention programs is the first level of preventative measures. Once suicide behavior has occurred, postvention protocols should be implemented immediately to prevent imitative suicide behavior among at-risk youth and other individuals in the community.