Teen Suicide: Helping Those Left Behind

Your child may need a safe place to talk about his emotions.

Death is a natural part of life.

Whether it’s at an old age and expected or it’s at a young age and sudden, death happens to us all.  We will all deal with that at one time or another.

Death is a tragedy in that those still living are left behind to deal with the sorrow and all that it entails.  And if that death is a suicide then it compounds the situation.

Two weeks ago we looked at some tips on preventing suicide.  We looked at some of the common cues to what someone could be thinking and what we as parents could do about it.  But what about after?

What about everyone that’s left behind?
What about all the teens that are affected or influenced by the suicide of another?

Let’s talk about postvention.  It’s a term that you may not have heard of, but it refers to those left behind in the wake of a suicide.

If your teen has had a friend commit suicide in recent months there are some things you should be aware of.  They could experience some of the following:

  • Shattered sense of order and trust
  • Increased feelings of vulnerability
  • Difficulty sleeping and eating
  • Disorientation – feeling like you are in a fog
  • Flashbacks or intrusive recollections of the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Uncontrollable crying or intense anger
  • Feeling numb
  • Denial and disbelief

When a student experiences the death of another, especially one as sudden and unexpected as suicide they can/will experience one or more of these symptoms.  If that’s the case you should seek immediate medical and expert help. 

Your child isn’t equipped to handle such a situation. 

Survivors of another’s suicide often fall into one of three clusters:

  • Quick recovery. Those who recover quickly without assistance and can return to functioning as before. Some of these people are not impacted because they had only superficial contact with the deceased, while others are often internalizing and suppressing pain, anger, or guilt. Often times, in the latter case, maladaptive strategies of coping emerge such as substance abuse or workaholism.
  • Modest support needed. Most people who were functioning well before the suicide need only a modest level of support for a period of time that might span a month to a couple of years. This level of support might include outpatient therapy or support groups.
  • Psychiatric disability. Some people may develop a mental disorder in reaction to the trauma and loss and may require extended or intensive treatment. (http://peoplepreventsuicide.org/suicide-postvention)

If your child has a friend that’s committed suicide in recent months or the past year or so you may see them in one of these three categories.  In all three cases I would encourage you to seek help.  Your student needs someone to talk to.  They need a safe place to talk and walk through their emotions and feelings.

We’ve all heard the term copycat.  And when a suicide takes place there can be copycats.  Students that are struggling may see the reaction of everyone and see it as a viable alternative.  What we need to be aware of as parents is that this is a very scary and real scenario. So what should we be doing after the tragedy of a suicide?  Dr. Neville Misquitta has a brilliant post what the do’s and don’ts of after a suicide.  Here are just some of the highlights:


  • Respond within 24 hours of the suicide
  • Show concern and empathy
  • Inform all staff members about the suicide and provide a debriefing session where staff may voice their concerns, apprehensions, and any questions they may have.
  • Inform school board members
  • Ensure all teachers announce the death of the student by suicide to their first class of the day
  • Provide counseling sites throughout the school for students
  • Assign a school liaison to handle all media inquiries in order to avoid sensationalistic stories concerning the suicide
  • Monitor the school’s emotional climate (Has there been an increase in fights or school delinquency following a death by suicide?).
  • Evaluate all activities done following a death by suicide (How did your school respond? What worked and what did not work?).
  • Utilize an established linkage system or community network in order to make referrals to the appropriate services as well to exchange information concerning the appropriate steps for treating those affected by the suicide.
  • Utilize an established school response crisis team, which should include a diverse group of school professionals, such as the principal, counselor, teacher and possibly the school nurse.


  • A major aspect of preventing cluster suicides lies in not glamourizing or memorializing the act in any way. This would include attention to points as below.
  • Plant a tree or object in order to honor the student.
  • Hold a memorial service for the student at the school.
  • Describe in great detail the suicide (method or place).
  • Dramatize the impact of suicide through descriptions and pictures of grieving relatives, teachers or classmates.
  • Glamorize or sensationalize the suicide.


Again, I am not a professional nor should this post be taken as expert advice.  My hope for these articles is to get you, as parents, to begin thinking through some of these issues.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers.  It’s a sad but very real reality and unfortunately too many of us will deal with this.  We must be aware and armed to curtail the domino effect in the aftermath of a suicide.

If you have any further questions or concerns please contact the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  Please do not take this post as expert or professional advice.  My only intention is to get you thinking and talking.



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