Talking to Students

We have put together some information and suggestions to help schools who have been affected by a suicidal death in their school community. We hope we can help you with the unique issues and experiences of those bereaved by suicide, and guide you through such a difficult time. Remember anyone affected – including you – may need some extra support.

Why is death by suicide different?

  • The grief is often far more intense, and there is often a lack of ‘closure’
  • People bereaved may look for ‘answers’ and try to find reasons the person took their life
  • Some people may feel there is a stigma associated with death by suicide
  • The bereaved are more likely to become socially isolated
  • Sometimes, people may feel responsible in some way for the person’s death. For example, if a student took their life and were bullied at school
  • People may feel guilt associated with not anticipating or preventing the suicide

How can suicide bereavement affect children’s behaviour?

  • Heightened insecurities (e.g. fearful, clingy, tearful)
  • Acutely distressed / agitated
  • Anxiety about being left
  • “Acting out” – pushing boundaries
  • Acting in a “naughty” way, breaking known rules
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Aware of mortality and scared of death
  • Poor performance at school
  • ‘Attention-seeking’ behaviours
  • In shock
  • Regressive behaviour (eg. in eating/sleeping/toileting)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Traumatised
  • Excessive anger
  • Depressed

Helping your students understand what has happened

  • Don’t put a time limit on the process of grieving. Be available some time after the initial shock of the death
  • Sit quietly with your students and listen while he/she talks, cries or is silent
  • Talk about the person who has died (if you can) in a sensitive and positive way
  • Consider doing an activity with the students to remember/honour the person’s life, such as a memorial, or making a photo wall
  • Make opportunities for students to talk to each other, look at photos or share stories
  • Maintain a routine as much as possible. Routines can provide essential stability
  • Acknowledge and believe the young person’s pain and distress whatever the loss
  • Don’t panic in the absence or presence of strong emotional responses
  • Be consistent, honest and reassuring. Talking about suicide in the correct way normalises the situation
  • Be careful not to talk about the method a person may have taken their life
  • Be aware of the effect of special occasions that may be hard for your student, e.g. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, holidays
  • Be aware of your own grief and/or feeling of helplessness
  • Reassure the person that grief is a normal response to loss and there is no wrong or right way to grieve