Teen Suicide: How Friends and Peers Can Cope

Teen suicide as depicted, for example, in the current Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why is devastating for the surviving friends and peers. Some survivors will feel guilt specific to certain actions or inactions, and others will feel confused and self-questioning, wondering what they could’ve done to help. For various reasons, some will even consider self-harm.

The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide is one place to go for help and resources. Here are their suggestions for how teens can cope in the immediate aftermath of a friend’s death by suicide:

  • “The first, last, and middle thing to remember is that you are not alone…”
  • “One of the ways to help yourself is to talk about how you feel. It doesn’t have to be one of those heart-to-heart conversations that gets real emotional way too quickly…”
  • “Reach out to the people who know you…”
  • “You will probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out what happened – why your friend did this. You may even think you know, and you’ll probably hear a lot of gossip and rumors from other people who think they know too. Try to remember that the truth behind every suicide is pretty complicated – there’s always more than one reason a person chooses to take his life. And even if a lot of what you know and hear turns out to be true, all the facts that drive someone to make this desperate decision are like one of those equations in algebra with a mysterious ‘X.’ In the suicide equation, the only person who knows what that ‘X’ really means is the person who died…”
  • “Kids tell us that when someone they know dies by suicide, they sometimes feel responsible, like there was something they should have done to prevent what happened…It may be hard to accept the fact that the only person any of us is responsible for is ourselves….”
  • “Let’s say that maybe you were mean to the kid who died. Maybe you teased him or bullied him or ignored him. You can’t take back what you did, but you can learn from it…”
  • “You may hear other people saying mean things about your friend. Or maybe they’ll joke about the fact that he died by suicide. These kinds of responses might get you really mad. It may help to remember that a lot of people are so uncomfortable when someone dies by suicide that they say stupid, untrue, and unkind things…Staying calm and reasonable is a better way to try to get people to listen to the truth.”
  • “Sometimes, when someone we know dies by suicide, we may find ourselves thinking about suicide, too. It’s kinda like, ‘If he could do it, maybe I will too…’ Again, normal reaction, but scary reaction. If you find yourself having these kind of thoughts, it is really important to talk with an adult you trust…”
  • “You may want to do something to remember your friend, something to show that you cared about him and that he was important in your life…[Some may] see these memorials and think, ‘Hey, if I die, then at least the school will pay attention to me, remember me in a cool way.’ It may sound crazy but it is absolutely true and contributes to something called suicide imitation or contagion…There are safe things to do that don’t feed into the contagion thing.”
  • “Last thing to know – it does get better. Getting back close to normal takes as long as it takes…”

Among books deemed helpful regarding teen suicide is educator Marilyn E. Gootman‘s When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens About Grieving & Healing.

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