If you discover or witness a suicide death

If you discover a person’s body after a suspected suicide death, or witness that death, you can find yourself caught up in circumstances beyond your control. Traumatic events like this can have a lasting impact. They are shocking and distressing. What you saw or heard may be difficult to deal with and this is especially true if the person involved was someone you knew or were close to.

Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Call police on 111. They will ask you to provide a witness statement. A police officer will write down what you saw, heard, or know. After such a traumatic experience, people’s memories of what happened can be a bit foggy or uncertain. Take your time and do your best.


o    What you say must be true. Giving police false information is a serious matter.
o    You’ll be asked to read through to check it’s correct and sign to confirm it’s an accurate report of what you witnessed.

As the investigation continues, you may be interviewed again and asked to give evidence as a witness in a coronial inquiry. Your coronial case manager will explain what this involves. A Support Worker is available to support you at the inquiry and can also answer any questions.

 

Everyone is different and will react in their own ways
You are likely to experience a wide range of strong reactions. Common first reactions include shock, disbelief, horror, fear, helplessness, sadness, and anger. People can also sometimes find themselves feeling guilty and wondering … Was there anything I/we could have done to have stopped this from happening? These are all completely normal reactions to a traumatic situation.

Physically you may find your body reacts in different ways: shakiness, nausea, a racing heart, a tight chest, body aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, uncontrollable sobbing or crying, or needing to sit or lie down. Existing health conditions might worsen. You might find you are exhausted.

It may be hard to remember things, or to concentrate. Some people find they stay on alert and feel anxious in case something like that happens again. You might withdraw from others or need to be near others more. You might find you’re more irritable than usual.

You might feel curious to know more about the person if you didn’t know them and want to make sense of what happened and why.

You may have disturbing thoughts or memories about what you saw or heard repeating in your mind. You might have nightmares, or flashbacks, as if it were happening to you again. Often people try to avoid anything that brings back bad memories. 

If the discoverer or witness is a child or young person, they will need loving support and understanding from caring adults around them. They may also need help from professionals with trauma support skills, even if they didn’t know the person who died.

See our information sheet Supporting your children and young people when someone they know has died by suicide internal link to PDF for comprehensive information about supporting a child or young person after a suicide death.

For further information, you can also visit:

A blessing of the site where a person has died is very important for some families, whānau, and communities. See here for information about arranging this. If you don’t personally know the family or whānau, speak to a Support Worker if you would like to attend any blessing of the site that is being arranged.

As a discoverer or a witness, media may want to get comments from you, or interview you. Media can be demanding and intrusive. You can see our helpful tips Managing Media Interest here. They also provide tips for wisely using social media at this time.

 

All the reactions listed above are normal responses to a traumatic situation and they can affect people more than they expect. Recovery from this traumatic situation will take time and support.

Looking after yourself is important
Encourage others who have been affected to do the same. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help.

Flashbacks
If you have a flashback, it feels as though you’re back in the middle of your traumatic experience or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail and during a flashback it can be difficult to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our information sheet Dealing with Flashbacks.

Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to someone you trust about what happened, such as a trusted member of your family or whānau, a close friend, your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, a respected elder, rangatira, or a Support Worker. Or use the free services of Aoake te Rā,  the Bereaved by Suicide Service that supports people those affecetd or bereaved by suicide throughout Aotearoa.

If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, it is wise speak with a professional. Talking honestly about how things are can help release the stress and emotional tension inside.

More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to learn ways to manage your reactions, please see:

Your reactions are normal responses to a traumatic event.
Even though it may not feel like it now, they will gradually lessen in the weeks and months to come.

If they don’t lessen, or get worse and disrupt your daily life and work, it is best to seek the help of a professional who has experience supporting people after trauma. Some people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask your Support Worker about help that is available to you. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

If your reactions trouble you

We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

What we can offer
As a witness or discoverer, you don’t need to report to police what you have seen to receive our help.

Our Support Workers can support you with:

  • someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
  • help to understand your rights and make informed choices
  • information and help to answer your questions
  • help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
  • someone to assist and support you as a witness at any hearings and dealing with police and other government agencies
  • practical support and assistance if you need to provide evidence at a coronial inquiry.

We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those who have discovered or witnessed a suicide death.

If you have English as a second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.

Other useful websites and information

Downloads

If you discover or witness a suicide death
Coping with Trauma
Dealing with flashbacks
When you are Grieving