Coping with Parent Suicide

The death of a parent is both complicated and painful for children. A parent’s death by suicide increases the complexity of the situation even more. 

The path towards a child’s healing and recovery is impacted by how they are encouraged to process their emotions of the loss. The grief of losing a parent to suicide is something that a child will experience for the rest of their life, however, with the appropriate support it is a grief that can become managed in a healthy way.

Healthy Grieving

  • Thinking about the parent the child lost
  • Feeling and expressing the different emotions that accompany suicide: anger, sadness, resentment, hurt, uncertainty, guilt, shame

Healthy grieving is important because it provides the opportunity for children to address their trauma of the unexpected loss of a parent. Research from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center shows that children under 18 who lose a parent to suicide are three times as likely as children with living parents to later die by suicide themselves. Making an effort to end the suicide cycle in families begins with children seeking support and treatment. 

Supporting Children: How can you support a child following a suicide?

  • Answer their questions in an honest and simple manner
  • Validate and accept their feelings
  • Emphasize to children that they are not to blame; this can take multiple conversations over time
  • Maintain normalcy in routines, school, and activities

Signs of Trauma

Children have different risk levels for experiencing long-lasting trauma. Children most at risk are those with avoidant personalities or severe anxiety, children who have experienced previous trauma, and children who lack supportive environments.

  • Sadness and disengagement from normalcy is not diminishing over time 
  • Refusal to attend school
  • Differences in sleep
  • Constant irritability
  • Avoidance of places or people that remind the child of their parent

Citation: “Coping With a Parent’s Suicide” Harold S. Koplewicz, MD

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