Witnessing or Discovering a Suicide

Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group - Madison, NJ

There is Immediate Help Available

There are numerous crisis lines that you can reach out to speak with someone immediately.  Most calls to suicide crisis hotlines are not from people who are suicidal, most of their calls are people who are struggling with an emotional issue that is overwhelming them.  

It can be hard to find a friend to talk to at 2AM after you wake up from a nightmare and need a soothing voice to talk to.  The trauma of witnessing or discovering someone after a suicide death is an overwhelming emotional challenge for most people.  The various hotlines are there for you to call 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  They are trained and are awaiting your call.

What Can I Expect if I Witnessed a Suicide or if I Found a Body?

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

If you witnessed the suicide of your loved one or found the body, you are likely to experience trauma symptoms in addition to grief over the loss of your loved one. Images of your loved one at the time of death may be burned into your memory, making it difficult to concentrate on other things. You may experience anxiety and confusion as well as physical symptoms such as chest pain, stomach or digestive problems, breathing problems, or difficulty sleeping. It is also important to know that, even when you have not been an eyewitness to the death, you may develop trauma symptoms.

These emotional and physical reactions are normal responses to trauma and, even though it may not feel like it now, they will likely diminish in the weeks and months to come. If they do not, it is best to seek the help of a mental health professional who has experience working with people who have had traumatic experiences or losses.

Understanding Where to Start After a Suicide

We have several pages on our website that help you to understand suicide and how to begin your path of healing after your tragic loss

Finding Support After Discovering you Loved Ones Suicide 

One medical study asked suicide loss survivors to rate what they found to be most helpful in their healing. The top results are:

Suicide Loss Bereavement Support Groups

By attending a suicide loss support group meetings you can leverage the top two methods.  Our group is an example of a suicide loss support group.  You can find out more about our meetings by visiting our Meeting Info page. If you live outside the Central New jersey area, you can find a list of nearby in-person suicide loss groups by visiting the AFSP website  You can also visit  Why Join A Suicide Loss Support Group  to learn more about why suicide loss support groups are helpful.

But it is very common for suicide loss survivors to also seek out professional individual grief counseling from a host of mental health service providers. The survivors of suicide loss often struggle with grief more profoundly then a non-suicide related death. 

Suicide Grief Counseling

You may struggle to talk about what you have seen or feel after losing someone to suicide.  It is important to understand that you are not alone with the feeling you are experiencing.  Speaking with a trained professional is often critical to helping you along on your journey of healing.  Talking about what you have seen and feel with a professional is important. 

Our website has a webpage dedicated to helping you understand what the various options are and how you might begin to find a professional that works for you.   Finding someone who will help you is very personal and specific to your individual needs.  Many people have never gone to a mental health professional before in their lives, or if they have, they have often gone for a non grief related issue. The whole concept can seem intimidating, but it is often a critical step for suicide loss survivors to begin their long term healing.  

A good place to help you understand what the different types of counselors are and how you can work with them can be found in this pamphlet Finding a Mental Health Professional Guide   This 13 page document from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a great place to begin. It discusses the different types of clinical professionals, the types of questions you need to ask to help you identify what your needs are.

A generalized marriage counselor may not be the right person for you.  It is not uncommon for many counselors to not have any specific training in dealing with the trauma of losing someone to suicide.  It really does take some effort on your part to interview them in advance, or at your first meeting to understand if they have dealt with suicide loss before or if they have any specialized bereavement training.  

Without asking the right questions up front, it is not uncommon for people to go through 2-3 counselors before they find someone that they feel comfortable with.  You will know within the first few minutes if this is the right person for you or not, trust your gut.  Please don't be turned off if the first 1-2 people you speak with are the wrong people, think of it like a test drive.  You need to find the counselor that fits your needs best.  There are clinical professionals that can provide you wonderful assistance.

Specialized Suicide Loss Grief Counseling

There are certain counselors who have unique training to help people deal with the trauma associated with the grief that comes from the suicide loss of someone close to you.  There are several lists of counselors that might help you to start your search for counseling.  We can not specifically recommend someone for you, you need to find the right person for your needs.  Everyone grieves differently.

Methods of Suicide Deaths

The shock of discovering your loved one after a suicide is often a deeply emotional moment.  Many suicide loss survivors feel like no one would understand how they feel and what they have seen.  Suicide deaths are more common than most folks know.  In 2017 across the United States there were 47, 173 suicides.   

While you may feel like you are the only person to have found some who has shot themselves or someone who has hung themselves, the facts are that suicide victims who have died by hanging or died by gunshot account for 79% of suicide deaths combined.    You are not alone, and there are people who understand what you have seen and feel.  Many people have witnessed a suicide or have discovered someone after a suicide death.

According to the Center for Disease Control the method used to die by suicide break down into several common categories.  The top three most common methods of suicide death are:

Independent of the statistics and the method used, many suicide loss survivors struggle to understand how their loved one died.  Feelings of guilt, anger, confusion and many other complex emotions are common after a suicide death.  The method used to die by suicide often comes down to what was available at the time.  If one method was not used, often a different method could have been used.  Sadly there are websites that teach troubled people how to die by suicide using common articles available to anyone.

Common Issues Associated With Discovering Someone Who Has Died By Suicide

Finding someone who has shot themselves

Finding someone who has hung themselves

Finding someone who has overdosed

Did they die because of me?     

Many suicide loss survivors unnecessarily grieve that they did not do enough or that they did not do something correctly after discovering their loved ones.  It is a common mistake to think that your efforts or lack of efforts lead to their death.  People die by suicide because of the pain that they had in their head and the method that they used, not because of something you did or did not do at the scene.   

Social Media Groups That Focus on Suicide Loss

It also helps to learn how other people have coped with discovering someone after a suicide. Besides the in-person support groups mentioned above, there are numerous social media groups that deal with suicide loss.   You may find online support and you are able to talk with other suicide loss survivors on sites like Facebook.  Just be careful about the various groups and their privacy settings.

Books About Losing Someone to Suicide

Our website has numerous lists of books that help you understand the feeling associated with losing someone you care about to suicide.  Reading about suicide loss was rated as the third most helpful method and by going to our reading lists you can find many books  about how to cope . 

Articles and Websites Dealing with Finding Someone Who Died By Suicide

Here are also a number of articles about finding and coping with what you have seen.