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What You Should Say To Someone Bereaved By Suicide

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It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide – you might be worried about putting your foot in it, and you don’t want to upset them further.

However, the alternative is saying nothing at all – and the life that has been lost shouldn’t be ignored.

“As a general guide, you’re very unlikely to make the situation worse,” says Sarah Bates, executive lead at Support After Suicide. “Try not to overthink it and just let them know you are here for them.

Don’t worry about ‘reminding’ them, as it’s likely their grief won’t be far from their thoughts.”

Showing your support is crucial because being bereaved by suicide can be incredibly isolating, explains Bates, and the continuing stigma can make it hard to talk about.

She adds: “Not acknowledging what has happened can intensify feelings of being alone, or shameful – even though there is no shame in someone dying by suicide.

Talking about what has happened, and showing your support, helps people to feel less isolated, stigmatised and ‘talked about’ behind their back.”

It’s even more important to look out for someone who has been bereaved, because they’ll likely be in a vulnerable place, with around one in 10 making an attempt themselves – according to research from UCL published in 2016.

If you want to support a friend who has lost someone to suicide, Bates suggests starting a conversation with the acronym HOPE in mind – be Honest, Open, Patient and Empathetic. This is her advice for how to speak to someone who has been bereaved…

  • Acknowledge their loss… 

Bates says this is important, even if you didn’t know the person well.

She recommends saying something like: “I heard about [the person who has died]. I just wanted to say I’m thinking of you, and I’m here.”

  • Be honest… 

Bates suggests phrases such as, “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I am thinking of you,” or “I’m not very good at knowing what to say, but I want to be here for you” – to really emphasise your support.

  • Avoid asking someone how they are… 

For Bates, this is a tricky question, as they might not know how to answer, she says.

“You might find it’s easier for someone to say, ‘Would you like a chat?’ or ‘I want to ask how you are, but I realise that might not be a good question, is there something I can help with?’”

  • Share happy memories of the person who died… 

Instead of focusing on their death.

  • Don’t ask for details… 

And Bates also advises against speculating about why it happened. “Suicide is complicated and very rarely down to one single factor,” she explains. “It’s also important to be open and non-judgemental.”

  • Think of other ways you can support your friend… 

“They may not know, but you could suggest practical tasks, such as childcare, dog walking or cooking,” advises Bates.

For more information, visit Support After Suicide’s Supporting Someone Else webpage or download the Finding The Words booklet. Samaritans is also available on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org.

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