Supporting children bereaved by suicide
Students been bereaved through suicide can be under a lot of pressure. Here’s how a school can support them.
If a child or young person has been bereaved through suicide, they can be under enormous emotional pressure.
Here are some common reactions children and young people have to a loved one dying by suicide, along with ways their school can support them.
It’s common for a child or young person to feel intense anger towards the person who has died.
- They might feel like they’ve been abandonded by them.
- They may struggle with understanding why they ended their life.
It’s essential that the school talks closely with the bereaved student’s family. It’s important to know the facts, and that these are clearly understood by the school staff.
Before the student returns to school, staff should talk to them and their family. We have a guide on how to support bereaved children returning to school here.
Let the bereaved student know that you and your colleagues are there to support them. Reassure them that you’ll be available if they need to talk about their feelings.
If the bereaved student talks about ending their life, their family will need to be told. They may want to discuss matters with their GP.
It’s vital that staff members understand how much the student knows about the circumstances of the death.
The bereaved student may ask “what if?” and “if only?” to try and understand what caused the person close to them to take their own life. They might think that the person who has died ended their life because of something they did/didn’t do.
School staff need to reassure the student that the death wasn’t their fault.
Try not to underestimate the bereaved student’s feelings of guilt, and don’t dismiss them. Rather, explore with the student:
- Why do they feel guilty?
- What is it that they believed they said/didn’t say, or did/didn’t do, that caused the death?
If you know why the student feels guilty, you can begin to gently challenge this. You can then reassure them that they were not responsible for the death.
Death through suicide can result in social stigma. This can isolate many families in their communities.
Similarly, children and young people who have been bereaved through suicide can feel excluded from school life. They might also feel shame over the suicide of someone close.
It’s difficult for children and families left behind to understand why their loved one ended their life. People outside of their families can make assumptions, and spread misinformation in social circles, communities and schools.
A death through suicide can unnerve a community, and can be falsely viewed as unnatural or a selfish act. There will be individuals who will view suicide as a moral wrongdoing.
Students bereaved through suicide can sometimes bullied by classmates as a reaction to the death. They’re extremely vulnerable and often a target for bullying. School staff should be on the lookout for this.
It’s essential that the bereaved student is not burdened with the opinions of others. These views are unhelpful and potentially damaging.
If the person who has died had a history of mental illness, the bereaved student might hear people talking about the person they were close to as ‘mad’ or ‘deranged’. It’s important that school staff reassure the student that the person they were close to was not deranged.
If the student says that the person was depressed or very down before they died, use this opportunity to explain that being depressed doesn’t mean ‘being mad’.