When you hear the news of a suicide

The unexpected death of someone close is always hard, but the death of someone by a suspected suicide can be especially painful. It is a uniquely difficult experience. The sense of loss and grief that follows can be intense.

For most people, the news will come as a shock. You may have found the person or witnessed what happened or it may have been a person you didn’t know. It also might be unclear for some time if the death was a suicide or by another cause.

Whatever your situation, our Support Workers are available to provide practical and emotional support to you personally, as a family, whānau, or friends bereaved or affected by suicide for as long as it is needed. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker. We are here for you.

First reactions
Everyone’s different and will react in their own way, but it’s common for people to experience some strong reactions.

People often feel:
•    shock, disbelief, numbness – things can seem a blur
•    it’s hard to take it in and understand what’s happened and why – or even to believe it
•    stunned, unable to feel anything, unable to think or speak
•    horrified, helpless, and powerless
•    deep distress and sadness, yearning for the person
•    preoccupied with disturbing thoughts and images – real or imagined, or troubled by nightmares
•    anger and frustration
•    rejected by the person who died
•    self-blame, guilt – wishing they could have somehow prevented it
•    blamed or judged by others
•    shamed, whakamā, embarrassed
•    some relief - this can seem confusing but isn’t uncommon if the person had previously attempted or struggled with suicide over a long time
•    concerned about the impact it will have on others in the family, whānau, and friends
•    intruded on - by people they don’t know, media, and even by those they do know
•    they want more time with others – or more time alone
•    they want to avoid people and places that remind them of what happened.

In the days that follow, many people will suffer physical reactions, such as 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.

As people try to make sense of what’s happened, some feel a compelling need to find answers to questions. However, not every question can be answered easily, and this can be deeply frustrating. People may find they have some big spiritual and life questions. Suicide is confronting and profoundly unsettling.

All these kinds of early reactions are normal responses to a traumatic and tragic situation
Even though these reactions are normal, they can be hard to deal with. It is likely to be a very up and down time for a while. You may find our Coping with Trauma and When you are Grieving information sheets helpful.

Frequently asked questions after a suicide
You may find our After a suicide: Answers to common questions information sheet helpful.

If you discover or witness a suicide death
See here for support information about this situation.

Ongoing reactions
See here for more about continuing reactions that may follow after the early shock of the news.

Coping with your reactions
See here for some suggested ways to cope with strong reactions.
See also information about Aoake te Rā,  a free national service providing support and manaaki to individuals, whānau and communities who have lost someone to suicide.


After a suicide: Supporting a child or young person
If you discover or witness a suicide death
After a suicide: Answers to common questions
Managing media interest
Coping with Trauma
When you are Grieving
Dealing with flashbacks