Moving Past Suicide of a Loved One

By Cathy Neville, LPC, NCC, on March 16, 2016

Handling The Loss Of A Loved One By Suicide

Moving Past The Suicide of a Loved One

Our feelings of abandonment and grief are hard to bear. No one could possibly know the pain you are feeling.  Someone you trusted to be there is gone, leaving so much unresolved and unsettled. Moving past the trauma of suicide to mourning your loved one becomes a complicated mix of feelings, regrets, and a different kind of sorrow. How can you cope without being overwhelmed by sadness, shock, anger, or betrayal? Will you carry your unreconciled relationship with you forever?

The tragedy of suicide certainly complicates your grief and loss. Emotional acknowledgement is very important.

Observe and recognize these emotions that often accompany loved ones grieving a loss by suicide:

  • Shock. “Why?” may be your prevailing thought for a while.
  • Isolation. You may feel like no one “gets” your grief.  You find people avoiding you (they probably don’t know what to say).
  • Guilt. You wonder if you could have saved him or her if you had done something differently.
  • Anger/Blame. You may feel therapy or medication should have prevented this.
  • Abandonment. You may feel left behind.  “How could he leave me?”
  • Anxiety. You worry that others blame you for not doing more.
  • Relief. You may feel released from your loved one’s mental health issues or addictions.
  • Depression. You experience hopelessness and unrelenting sadness.

All of these feelings are normal responses when we lose someone to suicide.

The tragedy of suicide can give you the sense that you are totally alone.

  • Though it’s difficult, don’t isolate. Try to maintain your connections and relationships.
  • Do your best to be with family and friends. If you are able to talk about the suicide, share your overwhelm and distress, and simply ask for their support.
  • Consider a survivor’s support group. Sometimes it’s more helpful to connect with people unrelated to your everyday life.
  • Individual therapy may also be a good place to deal with difficult emotions or “stuck” responses that inhibit healthy coping mechanisms.

Trying to recover from your loved one’s suicide the “right” way is wasted energy and lends itself to unnecessary self-judgment.

You needn’t rush the process. Grieve this your own way.

Getting “back to normal” is not the goal. Healing is the objective.

The grief process may take longer or look different than people think it should.

Visit the grave or memorial site only when you’re ready.

Discuss your loved one’s life and struggles only when you feel you can.

Go slow and heal completely.

Be good to yourself. Suicide is traumatic.

Suicide is traumatic.

It’s easy to neglect your mind and body, which just exacerbates strain and emotional distress. Take time to meet your own needs.

Exercise and a healthy diet foster healing of the mind and body.

Endorphins alleviate depression, improve sleep cycles, and relieve stress.

Try not to overeat or miss many meals.

It may be tempting to distract yourself from the pain of your loss with food, alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs. Please don’t.

Find healthier ways to feel better.

Find a healthy way to say good-bye.

If your relationship was contentious or difficult, a journal or letter can help you let go of the blame, anger and abandonment caused by your loved one’s choice. It can also help you release longstanding issues you never had an opportunity to address.

Consider volunteering for suicide prevention groups, or dedicating a scholarship or research fund.

It may also comfort you to research suicide and mental illnesses for a deeper understanding of your loved one’s choice.

As you work through your grief, set time aside to be with your feelings of loss.  Many people think if they stay busy and distracted, they will avoid feeling the pain of their loss.  The truth is just the opposite.  This type of avoidance will prolong the grieving process and oftentimes lead to complicated grief and depression.

Call a grief counselor.

If you have lost someone you love by suicide, you may want to consider seeking the help of a counselor.  Grief and loss counselors have training and experience in helping people who have suffered loss find the strength and the coping skills they need to move through their trauma and grief to a path of healing.  If you need grief counseling and live in San Antonio or its surrounding area, call me.


College Students: Mental Health and Coping Strategies

Seek Counseling

Stressed college students

College kids don’t talk about mental health much.

There’s a stigma… and that word “crazy” gets in the way.

The confidence of youth often clashes with the pain and shame of mental illness.

It keeps a student quiet and lonely and pretending too long that everything is fine.

Too many college students wait until it’s all too much, never once calling on counseling services or sharing the depth of their hopelessness.

They cope poorly. They leave school.

They suffer, feeling isolated and alone.

Having worked on college campuses as a mental health counselor, I have seen the under-utilizaiton of on-campus mental health centers.  Whether it is the result of the students not knowing the services are available or the fact that many students feel the need to handle their problems in secret or alone, they are not seeking the help they desperately need.

Yet, the numbers published in a recent survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors reveal just how common mental health problems are on college campuses:

  • 95% of college counseling center directors surveyed said increasing “significant psychological problems” among students is a growing concern on their campuses.
  • 75% of lifetime cases of mental health conditions present before age 24.
  • 1 in 4 people between 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.
  • Over 25% of college students have been diagnosed or treated for mental health issues during the previous year.
  • Nearly 42%  of college students cite anxiety as the most difficult mental health obstacle, followed by depression at just under 35%, and relationship concerns at about 36%.
  • 64% of college students who drop out for mental health reasons leave primarily due to depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Depression and anxiety impacted academic performance negatively for 31% and 50% of surveyed college students, respectively.

College life entails a host of adjustments, transitions and relationships to be navigated. The pressures of young adulthood come with unique challenges. Students don’t have to feel like self-medicating, isolating or self-harming are the only ways to deal.

How can you or a student you know learn how to cope, thrive, and get the education and experiences you hope for?

  • Find help, get help, feel better.
  • School resources. Utilize campus clinics and counseling offices for help managing relationship conflicts, college and academic issues.
  • Community resources.Consider off-campus counselors if you have long-term therapy needs or require someone to prescribe and monitor medication.
  • Prep for health and success.
  • Think ahead about living, scheduling and social arrangements that will be the most beneficial to you during hard times.
  • Learn about your college’s academic requirements and services that might support academic growth and alleviate potential stressors
  • Reduce academic stress with strong time-management skills. Use academic services, study groups, and tutors to ease your workload. Make sure you plan well enough to avoid the stress of a backlog or assignment pile-up.
  • List symptoms, seasons and life events that appear to accompany your low moods; anticipate and prepare for their impact on your learning.
  • Maintain documentation you may need to share with your college regarding your health.
  • Develop clear language that accurately describes your mental health status, struggles or diagnosed illness.
  • If you take prescription meds, maintain your med schedule. Now is not the time to try to skip, skimp or do anything your doctor didn’t authorize.

Maintain and build support systems.

  • Connections with friends and family back home maintain roots and stability.
  • New relationships at school widen your pool of support and sense of belonging.

Be sure to practice good self-care.

  • Monitor mental illness symptoms. Notice significant changes in your eating or sleep pattern
  • Maintain healthy habits. Exercise, a balanced diet, and seven to nine hours of nightly sleep will keep you emotionally resilient.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs are poor ways to cope with stress and can exacerbate mental illness. Seek out drug-free, social activities you enjoy on campus.
  • Call a therapist if your symptoms steadily worsen; don’t wait to schedule a consultation.

Photo by DepositPhoto

Why “Get Over It” Is Bad Advice! Understanding Grief


Why “Get Over It” Is Bad Advice to Give to Someone Who is Grieving


Understanding grief

Grief is one of the most powerful and most universal feelings we as humans experience. Grief, which can be defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss,” is most commonly thought of in terms of endings—usually the ending of a life or of a relationship.

One commonly accepted explanation of the grieving process is the Kubler-Ross model, more commonly known as the five stages of grief. This theory explains grief as a chronological progression of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While the feelings associated with grief are indeed universal, each person experiences grief differently. One individual may spend months or years in one particular stage of grieving, while another individual may need only a few days to process the event and move forward.  Not everyone experiences all five of these emotions, while others may but not in any particular order.

Possibly the worst advice to give to someone who is grieving is to simply “get over it.” Not only is this suggestion extremely insensitive; it may also prove to be impossible. Many people, while they are able to cope and eventually move on with their lives, will never truly “get over” a loss. The pain felt as a result of losses may be compartmentalized and contained—but it may also be carried by a person for the rest of his or her life.

Coping with grief

How a person internalizes their grief will depend largely on several factors, including: the level of closeness the person shared with the individual who is no longer in his or her life, the individual’s personality and character traits, the mental and physical stability of the individual, the individual’s age and stage in life, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. It will be helpful to examine each of these factors in more detail:

Level of Closeness Equal Level of Grief

People will cope with grief differently based on how close their relationship with the “lost” individual was. A person may experience grief and feel sadness if a distant relative or new acquaintance passes away, but the emotions will become magnified at the death of a parent or loss of a best friend.

Personality traits

Personality traits and disposition will largely affect the way a person experiences grief. Individuals who are sensitive and more susceptible to feeling emotional pain will likely have a more difficult time accepting loss and require more time in each grief stage. Certain people simply compartmentalize and process difficulty better than others; these individuals may find they need less time to grieve.

Mental and physical stability

The overall health of a grieving individual will also play a part in the length and severity of his or her grief. Individuals who are weakened by illness or who are suffering from conditions such as anxiety or depression will likely not grieve in the same way as an individual without such conditions.

Age and stage in life

Age and maturity greatly influence the way a person grieves. A small child with an unclear grasp on the concept of death will experience the grief stages differently than an elderly individual who has come to accept death as another part of life. Many situations, including the death of a parent or grandparent, become more anticipated as an individual grows older. Sudden, untimely deaths will have a particularly negative effect on younger individuals.

Circumstances surrounding loss

Typically, the more unexpected a loss, the greater impact it will have on a person. If the end of a romantic relationship was in sight for both parties, the breakup will not come as a shock. If an individual has been terminally ill for months or years, their death will likely be accepted and seen as a comfort, as the individual is no longer suffering.

The timing of grief

The most important thing to understand about grief is that it occurs on no specific timetable. Grief cannot and should not be confined to a certain number of days, months, or seasons. Individuals need to be allowed to process and experience their grief in the way that is right for them; the approach that works for one person is unlikely to work for the next. If you are supporting someone who is grieving, allow him or her an infinite amount of time. Encourage your loved ones to continue on with their lives and be sensitive, loving, and patient. Never advise anyone to just “get over it”—for you never know the extent of their grief.