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Pennsylvania Adult/Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition

AOASPC is a resource, not a hotline or counseling center

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Responding to the Scene

First responders are usually tasked with crisis control and the practical aspects of "on the scene" protocol following a suicide. However, it's important to note that what you say or do in the first few hours after a suicide are crucial. This includes how you speak to the family. What you say will be imbedded in the family member's minds forever. They won't remember the funeral, but they will replay that scene/day over and over again.

To paraphrase author John H. Hewett, the worst has happened to them and living through the next phase will be the second worst thing to happen. The family will feel a complete lack of control. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for the family is to give them as much control over things as possible.

More Helpful Tips:

  • Say, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this and I'm here to help you"
  • Talk to the family as if it's your loved one who died
  • Make a copy of the note, if there is one. This is the single most important thing you can do for the family
  • DON'T leave the survivor (if only one) alone when you leave

DO

  • Be honest
  • Answer only what is asked
  • Let them talk; listen actively
  • If they want to sit in silence, sit in silence with them Let them cry, kick, scream, express their grief - don't try to stop them
  • Validate their feelings

DON'T

  • Try to find something positive about it
  • Ask if they saw it coming or suspected it
  • Play the blame game
  • Tell them it was God's Will. It wasn't.
  • Compare losses
  • Take control
  • Tell them you know how they feel - You don't!

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