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Suicide - Do's & Don'ts
Some “Do's” and “Don'ts”
Responding to Suicide Survivors
Margaret Jackson

Understand that the #1 cause of suicide is untreated depression.

Understand that 95% of suicides are caused by brain diseases such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar illness, or  schizophrenia. It is biological and is not caused by life events such as the break-up of a relationship, fight with a spouse, or loss of a job.

Do attend any public service (even if you were not close friends). Your presence with no more than a hug or a handshake brings more support than all the “rehearsed remarks” you could imagine.

Listen without judgment. Let them tell the same story over and over. This is one of the ways survivors can begin to grasp the reality of what has happened. Listening can be the most comforting thing you can do for a suicide survivor.

If you must say something, be especially careful not to assign blame, assume feelings, or rationalize reasons for what has happened. As a rule, let their words be your guide; you need not agree nor disagree. Only affirm their right to feel as they do.

Inappropriate comments include: “You have other children.” “You'll get married again.” “You must forget about him or her.” “He or she had to be insane.” “It was God's will.” “Be brave, don't cry, don't talk about it.” “I didn't know he was adopted, you'll be okay.”

Accepting and loving survivors as they are, helps them live with themselves and learn to accept a most “unacceptable” loss.

Try to avoid the words, “committed suicide.” Many survivors feel that this infers the deceased has committed a crime. More acceptable phrases are “died by suicide,” or “took his/her own life.”

Share a positive memory. In the painful face of the present, some happy and endearing memories help keep one tragic moment from overshadowing a lifetime.

Do something practical: cook a meal or freeze one for the future, help with babysitting, shopping, phoning, driving, etc. Don't wait for them to call you (most never will).

Be persistent, but thoughtful and patient. It is hard to accept help, but as months pass they will need you more and more - not less and less.

Remember holidays and anniversaries of important dates with a visit or a call. Suggest several things to do together and let them choose but not refuse without discussion.

Perform what you promise. Disappointment is devastating and destroys the very best of your good intentions.

Be aware of suicide self-help groups, counseling through employee benefits, and offer to go with your friend.

Remember that grief is an intensely individual journey. Although you may have experienced grief in your life, don't say, “I know how you feel.” Ask, “How are you feeling?” or tell them, “I am sorry for your loss.”