Witnesses

When someone takes their life and you were in some way involved or a witness, it can be really tough and upsetting. Even if you didn’t know the person at all. People who have witnessed a suicide in these – or other – ways are often called ‘witness survivors’.

Being a witness survivor can be extremely traumatic and it is likely that what you are feeling is normal. You may have had some of the reactions below. You may not, that is also completely normal because everyone reacts differently.

Shock
Experiencing flashbacks
Guilt
Disbelief
Denial
Anger
Sadness
Disturbed
Panic and anxiety
Sadness
Irritable
Withdrawn
Shock
Stigma
Nothing
Confused

You might also find you are:

  • Avoiding the place where you witnessed the suicide
  • Feeling anxious and panicky when you have to go near that place
  • Not sleeping well, and/or you have disturbing dreams and nightmares
  • Having disturbing thoughts you can’t block out
  • Thinking about death and dying
  • Having flashbacks
  • Feeling generally anxious
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Feeling numb
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Losing track of time
  • More impulsive and reckless in your behaviour
  • Using alcohol or drugs more than usual

You may find that you react over time and that your thoughts and feelings change. This is a completely normal reaction to trauma. If you know other witness survivors, you may find you are reacting differently. Again, this is normal as people deal with trauma in different ways.

What to do to care for yourself

  • Give yourself time to rest and recover. It will take time to feel in control again – this is normal. 
  • Reassure yourself that what happened is over, that you are safe. You will get through this. 
  • Make little decisions, but avoid making big ones while you are feeling this way. 
  • Understand it is normal to have disturbing mental images of what happened – these will fade over time. 
  • Sleep and eat even if it is hard to, exercise and get outside in the fresh air. Don’t neglect your health, but if you are really struggling, see your GP. 
  • Avoid drink and drugs, you may want to numb the pain but it will not help your long term recovery. Keep taking your normal medication is that is what you usually do. 
  • Talking really helps. It could be to a friend, or to a helpline like Samaritans (116 123). 
  • What has happened to you is traumatic what you are feeling is your response to trauma. There may be professionals and experienced people in your area who you can contact. Check here [link to services]
  • Try to keep a routine, get up in the morning, eat at set times, see friends, walk the dog. 
  • Remember you are not alone

Accessing Support

If you feel as though you would like to talk to a professional about your experiences or that you may be experiencing PTSD from the event it please see here to search for local services in your area that will be able to offer you support.

I need to talk to someone now

There is help available if you need to talk to someone right away. These organisations have helplines where you can talk to someone confidentially and quickly.

Samaritans

116 123, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Samaritans.org

Cruse Bereavement Care

0808 808 1677, Monday-Friday 9.30 am – 5 pm (excluding bank holidays), with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings until 8 pm.
Cruse.org.uk

CALM

0800 58 58 58, open from 5 pm to midnight every day.
thecalmzone.net

Papyrus HOPELINEUK

0800 068 4141. For those under 35, or if you are worried about a young person. Open weekdays 10 am-10 pm, weekends 2 pm-10 pm and bank holidays from 2 pm–10 pm.
Papyrus-uk.org