We all want to support friends and family who have been impacted by suicide, whether they are struggling with thoughts of suicide or have lost a loved one to suicide. This is especially true during the holiday season, as traditions and memories can be overwhelming, and external stresses and expectations further strain a person’s ability to cope.
While it may be a difficult subject to broach, there are many ways we can support friends and family who are grieving or battling suicidal thoughts throughout the holiday season.
How To Support Friends and Family Dealing with Suicide Loss or Suicidal Ideation
Do invite them, with sensitivity, to participate in seasonal events and activities. They might not be ready, or willing, to join, but that doesn’t mean they would not appreciate an invitation.
Don’t take it personally if they choose not to attend your function. It’s not personal — they might not be ready. Perhaps ask them if they would like to come over for a visit, grab a coffee or take a walk together. They may simply be more comfortable spending some one-on-one time with someone they trust.
Do be mindful of the language you use. Never imply how they should or shouldn’t be feeling. Everyone grieves and/or deals with things differently. There is no right or wrong way. Be empathetic. Be hopeful. Be supportive. Be a friend.
Don’t assume that they want to speak about their loss and struggles (and don’t assume that they don’t) or how they are feeling. They might not be ready to open up or may have confided in someone else. Let them know you care and are there for them should they want to talk. Do this by asking how they are and being genuine. A kind word goes a long way.
Do ask survivors of suicide loss (SOSL) if and how they would like to remember their loved one during the holidays. Then let them guide you by accepting and respecting the boundaries they establish.
Don’t assume every SOSL grieves the same way. If you have more than one friend or family member who has lost someone to suicide (no matter how recently), approach each individual separately to see what you can do to make him or her feel more comfortable during the holidays.
Do be an active listener. People who are struggling with thoughts of suicide can find great relief by talking to a safe person. A safe person is a listener who is not judging or criticizing. Your only job is to listen and be empathic to their current challenges. Never leave a person who is having thoughts of suicide alone. Instead, get them professional help immediately.
Do ask how you can help tackle some of the many things that need to get done during the holidays. Depressed, and bereaved individuals often find even the smallest of tasks overwhelming.
Of course, you won’t know what your friend or family member will need unless you ask. Be specific and provide a few ideas for helping out. Ask “Can I take you shopping for some gifts?” or perhaps “Could I come over and help wrap some presents?”. If there are kids in the home, plan an outing with the children to give them a bit of downtime. Be the calm in the chaos.
Don’t insist on helping out if they don’t want you to get involved. Offer to pitch in where you can but accept “no” as a completely legitimate response. Some people might interpret offers to help as pity. Do not insist on helping out, or suggest that someone is incapable of going it alone. The last thing you want to do is stress someone out by insisting you have to lend a hand.
Do buy your friend or family member a gift. Consider making a donation to a charity that is meaningful to them, or paying for a service to come and clean the house.
Don’t be afraid to ask what they’d appreciate the most. The answer may surprise you.