If a child or young person has been bereaved through suicide this can place them under enormous emotional pressure. They may become entrenched in the belief that the person who has died ended their life as a result of something they perceive they did or not do.
Feelings following a suicide
Feelings of intense anger directed towards the person who has died for abandoning the child or young person can also be common when the death resulted from suicide.
Some children and young people who have been bereaved through suicide might be struggling with questions pertaining to why the person took the decision to end their own life. It is essential that the school liaises closely with the bereaved child or young person’s family to ensure that the known facts relating to the death are clearly understood by the school staff.
Questions and guilt
It is also vital that staff members are aware of how much the child or young person knows regarding the circumstances of the death. The bereaved child or young person may spend time contemplating “What if” and “If only” in an attempt to try and understand what caused the person close to them to take their own life. It is essential that school staff reassure the bereaved pupil that the death was in no way their fault or as a result of arguments or inaction.
For example, a young child might believe that their mother ended her life because the child argued with her about cleaning his/her bedroom. Try not to underestimate the bereaved child or young person’s feelings of guilt and try not to dismiss them. Rather, explore with the child or young person why they feel guilty and what is it that they believed they said / didn’t say, did / didn’t do, that they feel caused the death. If you know why the bereaved child or young person feels guilty then you can begin to gently challenge this and reassure the child or young person that they were not responsible for the death.
Stigma and bullying
Death through suicide can result in social stigma and many families can feel isolated within their communities. Similarly children and young people who have been bereaved through suicide can also feel excluded from school life and may also feel shame over the suicide of someone close. It is difficult for children and families left behind to try and understand why the person they were close to ended their life and this can fuel conjecture within social circles, communities and schools.
Children and young people bereaved through suicide can sometimes be bullied by classmates as a reaction to the death and school staff should to be mindful of this happening. A death through suicide can unnerve a community and can often be wrongly viewed as unnatural or a selfish act. There will be individuals who will view suicide as a moral transgression depending on their faith and cultural beliefs.
It is therefore essential that the bereaved child or young person is not burdened with the opinions of others as this is unhelpful and potentially damaging.
Similarly if the person who has died had a history of mental illness, the bereaved child or young person might become subject to comments about the person they were close to being “mad” or “deranged” by their peers. It is important that teaching staff reassure the bereaved pupil that the person they were close to was not deranged and if the child states that the person was depressed or very down before they died, use this opportunity to explain to the child that being depressed does not equate to being mad.
How can I help?
- School staff should liaise closely with the bereaved child or young person and their family prior to the pupil’s return to school and whilst they are at school
- Reassure the bereaved child or young person that the suicide was not their fault and wasn’t a result of anything they said / didn’t say or anything that they did / didn’t do
- If the bereaved child or young person talks about ending their life their family will need to be told. Encourage the bereaved child or young person to seek help from Cruse and introduce them to the Hope Again website which is Cruse Bereavement Care’s specialist website designed for bereaved children and young people. The family of the bereaved child or young person may want to discuss matters with their GP
- Let the bereaved child or young person know that you / your colleagues are there to support them and that you will be available to them if they need to talk or vent their feelings
- Be alert to the possibility of bullying. Children and young people bereaved by suicide can be extremely vulnerable and often a target for bullying
Many of our Areas offer support to children and young people. Find your local Cruse service and contact them to see what is offered in your area.
Our website Hope Again is a website designed for young people by young people. It includes information and forums where young people can share their experiences.