Survivors of Suicide Loss Groups: Specialized Support for Unique Grief

Impact of Suicide Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 49,449 people died from suicide in the United States in 2022. Every one of these suicide deaths leaves an estimated six of more “suicide loss survivors”, people who have lost some they care deeply about to suicide, leaving these loved ones struggling to understand why it happened and often dealing with their grief in isolation.  suicide loss blog

The grief process is always difficult, but grief following the loss of a loved one to suicide is different, complex and often traumatic. Suicide loss survivors face unique challenges that differ from those who have been bereaved by other types of death. In addition to the inevitable grief, sadness, and disbelief typical of all grief, suicide loss survivors often experience overwhelming guilt, confusion, rejection, shame, anger and few resources for suicide loss. Often times, suicide loss survivors are left to face this mix of emotions alone due to ongoing stigmatization of suicide. 

Healing Through Suicide Loss Survivor Support Groups

For survivors of suicide death, the journey to healing takes on many different shapes. Loss survivors face complicated emotions that often cause the period after the loss to be a very painful, confusing and difficult time. Friends and family not directly impacted by the suicide loss may not know how to offer the support needed, or are grieving themselves, causing the suicide loss survivor to feel isolated or alone in their grief. They may feel like they have no one to talk to that can truly understand their experience and pain.

Society often views grief and bereavement as temporary; stages that someone moves through as a way of gaining closure and acceptance of the loss. Yet more recent theories of grief and bereavement no longer view grief as stages that someone moves through or a process to be completed. Instead, more current theories view grieving as a complex, dynamic, and perpetual process—a grief journey of negotiating essential adaptive responses rather than reaching a definitive endpoint. A journey in which people need ongoing support and a safe space to talk through their thoughts and emotions on an ongoing basis. Grief support services such as a support group can help fill that need. suicide loss support group blog

Support groups can not only help survivors feel less isolated through interactions with a group of people with similar loss experiences, but also offer validation that grieving is expected and acceptable no matter how long it has been since the loss occurred. Support groups also provide a sense of hope and reassurance that healing is possible by introducing newer loss survivors to others that may be further in their healing journey. In many cases, people bereaved by suicide place more confidence in those with similar losses, feeling that they can understand their particular needs and challenges. In addition to the critical emotional support offered through support groups, individuals may receive helpful resources and suggestions for taking care of real-life obligations such as dealing with estates and legal issues: how to talk about the death of their loved one to others, developing fitting memorials for the deceased; coping with holidays and special events; and setting realistic goals for one’s new life following a loss to suicide.

Survivors of suicide loss can locate support groups and other grief support services (some in person and some through online forums) through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education organization. We also have an Adult Suicide Loss Bereavement Support Group at Sentier, which begins in Fall, 2024.  

Blog written by Sentier Therapist, Becky Lawyer, MA, LPCC, LPC


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