Coping with Suicide
Unfortunately, a significant amount of people know someone who has either committed suicide or has experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. While there are multiple ways to cope with a loved one’s suicide, children tend to process loss differently. That said, we’ve put together a list of effective ways to help young children cope with suicide, whether that be a close friend, classmate, or family member. Read on to learn more about coping strategies after a suicide loss.
Grief naturally coincides with death, especially a death caused by suicide. With that in mind, it is important to understand how the grieving process functions and changes over time.
When breaking down the steps of grief, researchers have identified what is known as the “five stages of grief.” Essentially, these stages are broken down as such:
- Denial: Includes the rejection of reality surrounding an individual’s disappearance from your life. Here, we often see individuals feeling isolated and in a state of shock and refusal of acceptance.
- Anger: When the denial sets aside and reality kicks in, it is natural to move into the anger stage where people hold frustration surrounding the situation. In this stage, resentment and irritation arise.
- Bargaining: At the bargaining stage, individuals try to negotiate a loved one’s death by making statements such as “If this is all a bad dream I will never take my father for granted again.” While this stage may not seem very practical, it is common and a major stage in the grieving process.
- Depression: In this stage, individuals feel weighed down by the intense emotions that set in. While depression looks different to everyone, most commonly people will have a lack of desire to do anything whether it is social or personal.
- Acceptance: Lastly, after all of the difficult grieving stages, people eventually get to a stage of acceptance. Here, individuals come to terms with the reality of the loss and begin to move forward with their lives in a healthy manner.
When it comes to the five stages of grief for your young child, it is important to understand that grief is not linear and does not follow the five stages in a specific order or fashion. Generally, the five stages are laid out in a way that most people experience them, however, research has shown that people move through the stages differently. Some people spend more time in certain stages than others and bounce back and forth.
No matter how your child experiences grief when it comes to coping with suicide, recognize that there is no right way to grieve. Grief is an individual experience and it will likely fluctuate to different stages and back to others as they recall memories with their loved one.
How to Cope with Suicide in a Healthy Way
Children may cope with a suicide death by isolating themselves and neglecting personal needs. However, at the end of the day taking the easy way out will only hinder their growth. Instead, we’ve put together a list of healthy and effective ways for young children to cope with a loved one’s suicide.
One of the best ways for your child to cope is for them to talk with a therapist or counselor about any emotion they might be experiencing. Not only do therapists have a deep understanding of grief and suicide loss, but they also have the tools to help children work through these intense feelings outside of therapy sessions.
Children’s Bureau offers a variety of resources and tools for children ages 0-21. The mental health services provided include cognitive behavioral therapy and individualized treatment plans that have made significant impacts in the lives of children who experience grief and trauma. That said, therapy is a well-known and highly effective option for handling and working through grief.
Maintain Open Communication with Your Loved Ones
When your child is dealing with traumatic grief, especially as a result of suicide, it is important for them to maintain open communication with their loved ones. Encourage your child to let their loved ones know that they are having a difficult time and are open to receiving support. This will allow themselves to be receptive of all support during this time.
Make Space for Yourself and Your Emotions
It is equally as important that your child supports themself while coping with suicide. Encourage your child to treat their own self as they would treat a friend who is going through the same situation. For some children, this may look like going on a nice walk or spending time at the playground or taking a bath and reading before bed.
Take Time to Journal
Lastly, talk to your child about taking some time to journal about their thoughts. This can include memories of their lost loved one as well. As such, their memories will live on and they will remember them for what they brought into their life rather than the fact that it ended. Journaling has been shown to significantly impact mental health and is undeniably a great tool when it comes to coping with suicide as well.
Moving Through Grief and Into Healing
In conclusion, nobody experiences grief the same way, but it is important to make your child’s healing a priority. With the tools listed above, your child can begin the road to healing. Remind them that people come into your life for a reason and the love that they brought you will never leave – they live on through you.
Susan J. Wood, Former Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT was the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.