International Survivors Of Suicide Loss Day: Grief, Healing, And Resources

Medically reviewed by Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is observed each November. This day was chosen by the United States Congress and was originally founded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). On this day, fellow suicide loss survivors come together with others to discuss healing, hope, and grief related to loss caused by suicide. If you have lost someone to suicide, know someone who has, and/or want to support suicide prevention efforts, participating in related survivor day events on this date can be rewarding and impactful.

iStock/dragana991
Connect with the memory of your loved one in therapy

How can I observe International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day? 

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, also known as Survivor Day, is held on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving each year. Many people observe this date by attending an event put on by the AFSP. You can find a local event through the search tool on the AFSP website.

In 2020, there were over 45,000 deaths by suicide, making it the twelfth leading cause of death in the US. However, despite these statistics, there is hope. 93% of US adults believe suicide can be prevented and hope to take steps to support this goal. Survivor Day can help promote awareness around the importance of suicide prevention and provide suicide survivors with resources for healing and support. Some ways to recognize Survivor Day include:

  • Educating yourself and others on suicide prevention 

  • Attending a suicide prevention march, such as National Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Month, or other events

  • Donating to an organization like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

  • Doing something to honor the memory of a loved one lost to suicide

  • Going to a support group 

  • Practicing self-care

Losing a loved one to suicide is a traumatic event for most. However, going through this healing journey can be a common experience with others. Survivor Day attempts to connect survivors and their loved ones to resources for support and cultivate more awareness around this challenging topic.

Suicide prevention 

One part of Survivor Day is increasing awareness about suicide prevention across the world. In 1997, some of the first large-scale efforts toward suicide prevention in the US were championed by Senator Harry Reid. Harry lost his father to suicide and introduced Senate Resolution 84 in his memory, which recognized suicide as a national problem and declared its prevention a national priority. He also helped found suicide hotlines and worked alongside the AFSP in suicide prevention for many years. 

The AFSP advocates for individuals and families affected by suicide to get involved in their communities to raise awareness of suicide statistics and ways to find support. As a result, those affected can know there is help available to them. The AFSP may suggest the following: 

  • Joining a public policy event to discuss prevention with government officials

  • Partnering with the AFSP on Project 2025, an initiative to reduce suicide rates by 2025 through healthcare, policy, and corrections systems

  • Connecting with a local AFSP chapter

  • Doing frequent mental health check-ins with yourself and those you love

Handling grief after loss

Losing a loved one to suicide can cause symptoms of grief, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions and concerns. Understanding the different ways grief may look and learning how to support yourself and your loved ones can be helpful in the healing process.

Common elements of the grieving process

The traditional model of the five stages of grief is now rejected by many as being outdated since grief is such an individual process and may vary widely even among people who have experienced the same loss. That said, the emotions below are components of the grieving process that many people may experience at some point, though order, severity, and duration are not fixed:

  • Shock

  • Denial 

  • Bargaining 

  • Depression

  • Anger

  • Shame and guilt 

  • Acceptance

Remember, there's no "right" way to grieve. The only recommendations are to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms that can be harmful to you and/or those around you. If you’re having trouble coping with grief, speaking with a mental health professional may be beneficial; more on this below.

Recognizing traumatic grief and PTSD

Grief caused by loss from suicide is often considered a traumatic type of grief. Symptoms that may accompany this type of grief include feelings of hypervigilance, frequently reliving memories or seeing mental images of the event, nightmares, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms that can be similar to those that commonly present with PTSD

Some individuals develop these conditions after experiencing a loss by suicide, while others find that their symptoms largely fade by the time they reach the acceptance stage of their bereavement process. Others might experience another form of mental illness or symptoms as a result. Again, speaking with a mental health professional about any symptoms you’re experiencing may be helpful.

Expressing your grief

Navigating the grieving process can be difficult to do alone. In addition, research shows that repressing feelings about a traumatic event like this can have detrimental impacts on your well-being. That’s why finding a healthy outlet for expressing your grief and other emotions you may be experiencing can be helpful and healing. You might journal or create art to express yourself, join a grief support group, or speak with a mental health professional. Connecting with a close friend or family member may also help support you through healing conversations.

iStock/PeopleImages

Strategies for coping with grief

Each person handles loss differently, but some of the tips below may be helpful in healthfully moving through grief after losing a loved one to suicide. Especially if you find yourself coping in unhealthy ways, such as by turning to substance use or isolating yourself, you may find it beneficial to reach out to a mental health professional for support.

Honor their memory

When you’re ready, speaking about the person you have lost with someone you trust or with a professional could be a valuable way to find a connection with your loved one's memory and work toward healing. You might consider focusing on a positive memory where they offered you kindness, support, or joy, or when you had a special moment or experience together. If this process brings up tears, it’s typically best to avoid holding them back. Research shows that crying releases endorphins, which are chemicals that can help ease both emotional and physical pain. 

Join a support group

Another way to help you process your grief is to join a support group of other people who have also lost a loved one to suicide. While well-meaning friends may have tried to comfort you, it can be more healing to find connection with those who have experienced what you have experienced. You can receive support and advice from others who have been in your situation as a way to improve your own mental health. As you progress through your grief, you may be able to offer the same to others. 

Practice self-care 

Another way to support yourself through the process of grief is to be gentle and to care for your mental and physical health. Try to avoid judging yourself for your emotions, whatever they may be, and do your best not to compare your grieving timeline to anyone else’s. Taking care of your body can be helpful during this time as well. Grief is often exhausting, so getting plenty of rest and eating nutritious food as much as you can help better equip your body and brain to move through it.

iStock
Connect with the memory of your loved one in therapy

Reach out to a mental health professional

Grief, especially when it's caused by having someone close who died by suicide, can feel overwhelming. Professional guidance can be key in these situations, as it can help you make sense of your emotions and move through grief in a healthy, constructive way. Seeking the support of a mental health professional is also typically recommended if you experience signs of complicated grief, depression, PTSD, or another mental health condition since these can all benefit from treatment. 

Research suggests that both online and in-person therapy sessions can offer similar benefits in most cases. If meeting with a therapist virtually feels more comfortable for you, you might consider online therapy. It allows you to receive care from a licensed therapist via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have a working device and an internet connection.

Other research indicates that internet-based treatment can effectively address symptoms of grief, PTSD, and depression in those going through the bereavement process. If you’re interested in trying virtual therapy, you might consider a platform like BetterHelp, which can match you with a licensed provider in a matter of days.

Takeaway

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is a day to tell stories and support, learn about suicide prevention, and grieve. If you’re having trouble coping with grief, counselors, therapists, and grief centers may offer useful resources. If you need immediate help, see below for resources.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1) or text 838255. For support for the deaf and hard of hearing community, please use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255.
  • Trevor Lifeline (LGBTQIA+): (866) 488-7386 
  • SAMHSA National Helpline for substance use: (800) 662-4357
  • National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237 (M-Th: 9 AM – 9 PM EST, Fri 9 AM – 5 PM EST)
Learn how to cope with challenging events
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started