Recent Study Addresses Family Needs After Teen Suicide

Losing a family member to suicide is extremely painful. No matter how old the deceased is, suicide carries with it confusion, questions, and stigma. The surviving family members can feel isolated and alone and unable to accept help grieving their loss because of the way in which their loved one died. But when a teen commits suicide, it is especially difficult for everyone involved. Parents of teens who commit suicide suffer extreme stress and can even experience negative psychological consequences as the result of such a devastating loss. Grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members are also affected. Although there are programs in place to address the needs of suicide survivors, few researchers have looked to the families of the suicide victims for guidance. Understanding the needs of these fragile families is key to developing effective programs for suicide grief recovery.

David Miers of the Mental Health Services Department of the Bryan LGH Medical Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, sought to address this issue. Miers contacted six parents who had survived the suicide of their teens and invited them to participate in his study. He asked them what their most immediate needs were following the death of their children. Based on the responses, Miers discovered six main factors that parents reported would be most helpful to people experiencing a child’s death by suicide.

One factor was professional support. The parents reported that they would have benefited greatly from emotional and therapeutic support immediately after the death. They also believed that teens should be made aware of warning signs so that a child could inform someone if they had a friend at risk for suicide. The parents noted that although the emergency personnel who were first on the scene of the suicide were able to complete the functions of their jobs, they would have liked them to offer resources for coping with the death. One area that first responders could be educated in is ways in which they could allow parents to view their children without causing disruption to the responders and the investigation. Even though the child is deceased, a parent still feels the need to protect and care for their child, and viewing the body could help the parents meet that need.

The participants also noted the importance of having another parent survivor present at the time of death or immediately following for emotional support. And finally, all of the parents demonstrated a desire to give back and provide help to other families struggling with the death of their teen. Miers believes that although his participant pool was very small, these responses provide insight into the needs of families trying to overcome the devastation of suicide. He added, “With this limitation in mind, it is the authors’ belief that these findings should be considered when providing suicide prevention training, especially those provided to first responders, clinicians, volunteers, clergy, community members, and schools.”

Miers, D., Abbott, D., Springer, P. R. (2012). A phenomenological study of family needs following the suicide of a teenager. Death Studies, 36.2, 118-133.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • molly draper

    molly draper

    April 25th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Nobody understands the pain of this like I do. When my brother killed himself it was like my family went on lockdown. My mom never left the house and my dad stopped talking at all. The rest of us were left to fen for ourselves. I am not sure that any of us have ever recovered because we have never talked about it. It is like we all went into our own world and did not let anyone in again. This is something that I don’t even talk to my husband about because it will be all these years of falling apart that would come out. I am not sure I am ready for that now or ever will be. I know that it would be healthier but it feels like I might not make it through it if I ever had to relive that time of my life again.

  • Genevieve


    April 25th, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    What I hate is that there are these families who are made to feel this shame over the suicide. It is not your fault, and in all likelihood you did everything possible to prevent it. You loved enough, you gave enough, but sometimes there is nothing that is enough to stopa suicide from happening when someone is determined to do it.

  • Ginny C

    Ginny C

    April 26th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    I get that these families need help- who doesn’t when you are facing the loss of a child? But do they really want the 1st responders giving them resources for coping with the loss? I wouldn’t want that from them nor would I expect them to be the ones to do that. That is not what they are trained to do. Let them work and try to save a life, there will be others who will then step in and talk to you about any hope that could be available in terms of counseling and programs that will help you cope.

  • stressmom


    April 26th, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Being raised in the south, talking about suicide has always been a little taboo.

    You know that there are families who have experienced it but you would never think to bring it up in conversation.

    It is not that you are unconcerned but things like that have a way of being hush hush and swept under the rug.

    I would personally never wish to bring up something that could hurt someone even more than that the way that they have already experienced.

  • Herschelle


    April 27th, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Sup[port at a time of grief is worth its weight in gold.and that is where being social comes to help.never easy to cope with things alone or even within the home,someone who can understand what you’re going through is always desired(like other parents who have lost a child to suicide).

  • MariBeth


    April 28th, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    Wow, it must be hard but therapeutic at the same time to be a family who has lost a teenager to suicide to go out and want to help other families who are also trying to cope with that kind of horror. But who better to relate to and understand that grief than someone who has actually been through that himself?

  • Lisa Peterson

    Lisa Peterson

    April 29th, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Sometimes you just want people to go away
    There are people there all the time
    Wanting to know how they can help, what they can do
    There is nothing they can do to bring your baby back
    Why won’t they just go away and let me grieve
    Maybe then if they would just leave me alone I would be alright
    But I can’t breathe there are so many of them there
    Smothering me with their words
    With their hugs
    With those sad smiles that will never realize my pain
    My loss
    It’s mine and no one else knows

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