What to Say?

It’s hard to know what to say when someone dies. When it’s by suicide, it can be even harder to know what to say. Even if you are feeling unsure, it is better to speak to someone than avoid them.

Talking to children

What to say – and not to say

Talking to students

Common worries about talking to someone

They have other people around to talk to, they don’t need my support

It might seem like the person or family have lots of support and other people around them. Even if they do, it can be important for friends, colleagues, classmates and the community to recognise the person’s grief. Sometimes, letting the person or family know you are thinking of them will give them comfort and show they are not alone.

I might make it worse

Showing someone you care will not make it worse. Ask them how they are and let them talk more than you do. Letting them express their grief can really help. Be prepared for both tears and no tears. There is a chance they will respond with anger, try not to take this personally – this person is going through some extremely difficult experiences. Death by suicide can make someone feel very angry, confused and guilty.

I am not a professional, and I don’t know what to say about mental health

Sometimes people will need or seek professional help. You may feel it’s ‘better to leave it to the professionals’. Do not underestimate the power of having a friend. You can often do things with the grieving person that professionals can’t, such as spend time with the person, go for walks, cook, or even take them to get groceries. You can be there late at night and over the weekend. You can also be there when they are remembering the person who died.

I don’t know them very well, they might think I’m being too forward

When someone dies by suicide, people who loved them can feel very isolated and like they are being judged by friends, the wider community and even strangers. Speaking to the person can go a really long way, even if you don’t know them very well. Letting them know you are thinking of them can show them you aren’t judging them negatively and make them feel like they are supported by their wider community.

I just don’t know what to say

It is OK to feel like you don’t know what you would say to someone. This is completely normal. Be honest. Remember to be compassionate and not judgemental. Allow the other person to talk about their loss. Remember to talk about the person who has died naturally and don’t be afraid to say their name. If you have positive memories of the person who died, it can help to tell the grieving person about them (but try not to make it about your loss).
It is always better to speak to someone who is grieving than to avoid them.How to help

If you don’t know what to say, be honest. Suicide is very complicated and can be really hard to talk about, being honest about your uncertainty can help them to trust you and understand you are there for them anyway.

Try to listen most of the time, and speak only when you need to. Try to listen 80% of the time, and speak for 20% of the time.

Be patient. Suicide grief – often called complicated grief – can last a very long time.

If you feel the person may need some more support or help, look up what services they can access. We have a good section on finding help.

Sometimes the person may be feeling overwhelmed. You could show your support by offering to do something practical such as pick up shopping, make them a hot meal or meals they can freeze, look after any children for a few hours, or drive them somewhere.

We have a document to help which you can read online or download: Finding the words

Don’t forget

Be prepared for a response you don’t expect. People grieve in different ways and they may not respond how you are expecting. If this happens, remember to be compassionate and understanding, the other person may be going through an extremely difficult time.

Talking to someone about their loss can affect you too. Remember to look after yourself. Talk to someone you trust if you are feeling worried or affected, take time for yourself to process what you have heard, and make sure you are eating and sleeping properly.

You cannot take away their pain, or make it go away. It is not your fault if they are not coping. The best you can do is support the person through such a difficult time and be there with them when they need you.

Finally, when someone is bereaved by suicide, they may feel like their whole world is falling apart. Their feels may also be complex and overwhelming. Reach out and be kind, a kind word or action can show them they are not alone, and make a huge difference to their day.

SASP is a programme hosted by Samaritans, registered charity number 219432 and SC040604. Copyright Samaritans © 2020