Professional Response to Suicide

Many different professionals are called upon to provide support and assistance after a suicide or suicide attempt.  The following is a collection of information useful to those professionals in helping survivors of suicide as well as helping the professional responders themselves.




Help for Professionals Dealing With Suicide Loss

You are the first people called when a suicide occurs or is discovered.  Your early actions and support for those bereaved by the loss of their loved one to suicide will leave a lasting impression.  Your actions and choice of words towards those who are likely in shock can provide them comfort and healing.  



First Responders
 (LEO, Fire and EMS) 
Assistance for Suicide Loss

The first on the scene of a suicide loss  are often the traditional first responders: Police (PD), Fire Department (FD) or Emergency Medical Service (EMS).  In addition to dealing with what is initially treated as a crime scene, they need to provide support and comfort to the suicide survivors.  Some survivors have not only discovered the body of their loved one, they may have also witnessed the actual suicide event. Below are some documents and articles to assist you in providing support and assistance to those touched by suicide.


Religious Leaders
Assistance after a Suicide

Often the second group people of people that are involved with supporting and assisting the survivors of suicide loss next are Religious Leaders.  Religious leaders such as Priests, Pastors, Rabbis are called to help the emotional and spiritual needs of those who have had their lives touched by suicide.  It is a moment of crisis for many, their faith will be shaken and their beliefs challenged.  They will be confused about how their faith actually deals with suicide.
  • What Clergy Need to Know About Suicide Loss How to Help After a Suicide 
    • Resource: 18 page PDF
    • Summary: Suicides may not occur every day in your community, but you may be involved in the aftermath of one, if this has not already happened. Your responsibilities may:
      • Put you at the scene of a recent suicide
      • Require you to call on congregants who have experienced a suicide loss
      • Call for you to notify a family about the loss of a loved one to suicide or
      • Have you accompany a congregant to identify the body of a family member 
  • Recommendations for Religious Services & Other Public Memorial Observances 
    • Resource: 13 page PDF
    • Summary: These recommendations were created to aid members of the clergy and other community and faith leaders as they care for those who have survived the loss of a loved one due to suicide and to assist them in helping to plan a memorial observance. This document provides background information, suggests ways to care for and support survivors, offers recommendations for planning memorial services, and lists additional resources. 
  • The Role of Faith Communities in Suicide Prevention: A Guidebook for Faith Leaders
    • Resource: 25 page PDF
    • Summary: The purpose of this guidebook is to prepare leaders of faith communities to prevent, intervene and respond to the tragedy of suicide. The concept for this guidebook grew out of an increasing understanding that suicide affects a significant number of people in all walks of life and that people often turn to their faith communities in times of crisis. 
  • Aiding Suicide Survivors A Guide for Funeral Directors and Clergy
    • Resource: 5 page PDF
    • Summary: This booklet is designed to guide funeral directors and members of the clergy, who are often first responders, in helping survivors of suicide cope with their loss. 
  • Your Life Matters! Celebrating Life, Hope and Reasons to Live
    • Resource: Website
    • Summary: Your Life Matters! is an opportunity for every faith community in the United States, regardless of creed, to focus one Sabbath each year on the characteristics common to most faiths that also help prevent suicides
  • A Homily for a Young Man Who Died by Suicide
    • Resource: Blog Post
    • Summary: A homily by a Roman Catholic Priest for a suicide victim
  • Funeral for Suicide Victim
    • Resource: Blog Post
    • Summary: A sermon by a Lutheran Pastor from a suicide funeral
  • When Someone Takes His Own Life
    • Resource: 1 page PDF
    • Summary: Article by Norman Vincent Peale about suicide with ideas for eulogy or homily.
  • Coping with a Suicide Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Response
    • Resource: 29 page PDF
    • Summary: Although not a comprehensive source on suicide, this booklet attempts to help survivors, and those who are concerned about them, with some of the questions and doubts that commonly arise in the attempt to come to terms with bereavement by suicide.
  • Roman Catholic Funeral Readings – Ordinary Time
    • Resource: 56 page PDF
    • Summary:  The selection of passages from the Bible is an important part of planning a funeral ceremony, as we want to turn to God's word for wisdom and comfort in this time of loss. The Word of God is at the heart of our Christian celebration of faith in this funeral rite in anticipation of the resurrection of the body.
  • Archdiocese of Boston A Guide For Preparing Funeral Liturgies
    • Resource: 70 page PDF
    • Summary: When we suffer the passing of a loved one or face the certainty of our own death, the Church's funeral rites provide a place where we can grieve, remember, face our fear, give thanks, celebrate, and above all connect our personal human experience to that of the believing community and to the story of Jesus. 
  • Suicide By Rabbi Kassel Abelson
    • Resource: 11 page PDF
    • Summary:  An enlightened Rabbinical discussion of Suicide and the Jewish faith.  " Suicide, “taking one’s own life”, is forbidden by Jewish law, for only God who has given life may take it. Though the early Halakhah denied the suicide the usual burial and mourning rites, the trend of Halakhic development was to find a reason to treat the ritual for a suicide like the ritual for any other death. For the sake of the survivors the mourning ritual involving the family may be performed. The “suicide” of a katan (child) is always considered evidence of less mental capacity, and full rites are permitted. A history of mental illness is prima facie evidence, that the taking of one’s life was due to diminished mental capacity. In fact any reason is deemed sufficient to decide that a suicide is without full and complete mental capacity, or the result of temporary insanity. A suicide is to be treated like any other death, with the right of burial in the cemetery, and the same ritual of mourning.
  • The Healing Power of Saying Kaddish for a Suicide
    • Resource: 11 page PDF
    • Summary: This article will provide an overview of Jewish law on mourning a suicide while exploring in more depth the issues involved with saying Kaddish for someone who has taken his or her own life.


Funeral Directors
 
Assistance for Suicide Survivors

For those that do not have an established faith, the Funeral Director is often the next contact.  Funeral Directors are called upon to handle the body of the deceased, but also to help the family decide what is the appropriate way to remember the deceased.  The survivors of suicide loss are often ashamed or feel guilty about the suicide and may want to hide the truth about the circumstances of the death. 
  • Supporting Survivors of Suicide Loss: A Guide for Funeral Home Directors
    • Resource: 16 page PDF
    • Summary: In your close role with survivors of suicide loss in the immediate aftermath, you play a vital and powerful role. And in partnership with other early responders, including clergy and law enforcement, you can lessen the leveling blow that families are dealt when they lose a loved one to suicide. SPAN USA and SPRC, have collaboratively partnered to produce and disseminate this guide. 
  • Information For Funeral Directors
    • Resource: 3 page PDF
    • Summary: These suggestions are intended to assist funeral directors as they care for family/friends that have lost a loved one due to suicide as they plan their memorial. Though it isn’t possible to answer all questions, it is hoped that these recommendations can help promote healing and help prevent future deaths by suicide. 
  • Aiding Suicide Survivors A Guide for Funeral Directors and Clergy
    • Resource: 5 page PDF
    • Summary: This booklet is designed to guide funeral directors and members of the clergy, who are often first responders, in helping survivors of suicide cope with their loss. 
  • How Do I Write an Obituary when my Loved One Died by Suicide?
    • Resource: 2 page PDF
    • Summary: Brochure from Ontario Funeral Association
  •  Don't Omit from the Obit: Can honesty in obituaries help prevent suicide?
    • Resource: Article
    • Summary: From Psychology Today: "As long as we disguise deaths by mental illness, we perpetuate a disease that kills. I understand why people mask suicide. Some religions won't bury their dead if the surviving family is honest about the cause of death. Often life insurance policies have exemptions for suicide. Shame plays a role. Social standing must be protected. Families are hurt and want privacy. No one wants the blame for death or to have her family dynamic scrutinized as the reason."
       
  • Resources for Survivors of Suicide - Writing An Obituary After Suicide Loss
    • Resource: Webpage
    • Summary: After a suicide death, one of the first big decisions a family will make is what to include in an obituary. Historically, suicide was never mentioned as the cause of death in an obituary (unless it was a very public person). More recently, some families have chosen to mention that the person died by suicide.
  • Suicide and Obituaries
    • Resource: Webpage
    • Summary:  People who have been bereaved by suicide face many questions during a time of unimaginable grief, misplaced guilt and 'what ifs.' One of the hardest may be how to explain what is most often referred to simply as a “sudden” death. Increasingly, though, it seems that many parents, spouses and children of those who take their own lives are opening up about the cause of death.  Here are some ways to consider opening up.
  • Suicide: Planning a Memorial Service
    • Resource: Webpage
    • Summary:  There are few people whose lives have not been touched by suicide. The first time I conducted a memorial for a person who chose death, I became aware of how important it is to name the circumstances of suicide and make space for the feelings that accompany that..

Schools and Teachers
 
Assistance for Suicide Support

When the suicide death is a student or a faculty member it is important that the entire school system respond appropriately.  There is an opportunity to discuss suicide prevention and to also help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues.  
  • After a Suicide: A toolkit for Schools  
    • Resource: 49 page PDF
    • Summary: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), two of the nation’s leading suicide prevention organizations, have collaborated to produce this toolkit to assist schools in the aftermath of a suicide (or other death) in the school community. 
  • Guidelines for Responding to The Death of a Student or Faculty
    • Resource: 7 page PDF
    • Summary: These guidelines are designed to help school administrators, teachers, and crisis team members respond to the needs of students and staff after a loss has impacted the school environment, such as after the death of a student or staff member or when deaths occur that affect many people in the community.
  • Postvention 
  • Standards Manual 
  • A Guide for a School's 
  • Response in the Aftermath of 
  • Sudden Death 
  • (Fourth Edition)
    • Resource: 101 page PDF
    • Summary: Despite all efforts to keep children and youth safe and healthy, tragic events happen. This manual will help you prepare for such a tragedy in your school. We believe that good advance planning can reduce the negative impact of a tragedy on youth and those who live and work with them. Therefore, STAR-Center recommends that school districts, working closely with their community resources, prepare for tragedies by developing policies and procedures that may be activated on very short notice. 
  • Responding to Suicide in the School Setting
    • Summary: Training for schools by The Dougy Center
  • Memorials After a Suicide Guidelines for Schools and Families
    • Resource: 5 page PDF
    • Summary: When a school community experiences the death of a student, there is often the very human tendency to want to do something in memory of the deceased student. These memorials can range from spontaneous tributes piled at lockers or parking spaces to more permanent, lasting tributes like placing plaques in halls or planting trees or gardens in the student’s name.  There may also be ceremonies or assemblies that bring together members of the school community to share memories and grieve together.
  • POSTVENTION: 
  • A Guide for Response to 
  • Suicide on College Campuses 
    • Resource: 28 page PDF
    • Summary: By the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance.  This resource is intended for use by colleges and universities that are affected by and/or want to be prepared for campus crises and campus deaths. 
  • Dealing With Death at Schools
    • Resource: 5 page Article
    • Summary: National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement  Nearly every principal will be faced with the death of a student or faculty member during his or her career. How schools respond to a death can either help or hinder the healing process, and the principal sets the tone for the level of assistance that is provided following a death at school
  • Dealing with Grief in the School An Administrator’s Guide
    • Resource: 2 page PDF
    • Summary: When loss occurs in the workplace, we may notice certain behavioral or emotional changes in ourselves and in work colleagues. During this time of uncertainty, staff typically displays a number of different signs and symptoms. These symptoms can result in decreased productivity and focus in the workplace.
  • After a Suicide: Answering Questions and Assisting Students
    • Resource: 4 page PDF
    • Summary: The aftermath of a youth suicide is a sad and challenging time for a school or a community. The major tasks for suicide postvention are to help youth manage the understandable feelings of shock, grief and confusion and to prevent further suicides.
  • Suicide Loss: What Schools Should Know
    • Resource: 34 page PDF
    • Summary: This presentation is an overview of the nature of suicide and suicide loss to help schools, parents, and the community to better understand the aftermath of a school-related suicide and how to respond to such an occurrence. It centers on the immediate circumstances and needs after the loss. 
  • Helping Children Cope With Loss, Death, and Grief Tips for Teachers and Parents
    • Resource: 4 page PDF
    • Summary: National Association of School Psychologist
  • The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools
    • Resource: 10 page PDF
    • Summary: Brochure from the CDC.   The purpose of this document is to provide concrete, action-oriented information based on the latest science to help you improve your schools’ understanding of and ability to prevent and respond to the problem of bullying and suicide related behavior. 
  • Lifeline Online Postvention Manual
    • Resource: 10 page PDF
    • Summary: When implementing postvention strategies in a community or school, it is important to also consider the role of the internet and to ensure that postvention initiatives also target existing online communities. This is especially important when the deceased is between the ages of 15 and 24, as data indicates this age group is very active online.
  • Website Posting Template:School/Community Response to Suicide
    • Resource: 5 page PDF
    • Summary: Tips from Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care about the different type of responses to expect.
  • Statement for Social Media Sites
    • Resource: 1 page PDF
    • Summary: Tips from Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care about how to address a suicide on social media.
  • Media Guidelines for School Administrators Who May Interact with Reporters about Youth Suicide
    • Resource: Webpage
    • Summary: Research has demonstrated potentially harmful effects of some types of news coverage about suicide on vulnerable individuals in the community.  There is evidence of an increase in suicidal behavior, especially among youth, following prominent news coverage of a suicide.  This behavior may result in multiple suicide attempts and completions.  It is referred to as suicide copycat behavior.  It is very important to address this concern with representatives of the media and to describe how responsible reporting can help reduce the risk of copycat suicides.
  • Suicide Postvention Talking Points
    • Resource: 3 page PDF
    • Summary: Suicide Postvention Talking Points (And there is permission from the family to talk openly about cause of death)
  • Sample Letter for Parents - Suicide is Confirmed
    • Resource: 2 page PDF
    • Summary: Sample letter for parents, Suicide is Confirmed (There is permission from the family to talk openly about cause of death)
  • Sample Letter for Parents of Alumni - Confirmed Suicide
    • Resource: 3 page PDF
    • Summary: Sample letter for parents of alumni (Following the Confirmed Suicide of a Student, and there is permission from the family to talk openly about cause of death) 

Clinical Providers
 
Assistance After a Patient Suicide

Next, the Clinical Professionals ( Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers)  and Medical Professionals (Physicians,Nurses)  who may have worked with the suicide victim or is called to help the loved ones after the suicide.  The provider will have to deal with their own personal feelings and response when the person who died by suicide is a patient.

Medical Professionals Assisting Suicide Attempt Survivors