There is the time-worn adage, “a witness to violence is a victim of violence.” Suicide is a form of self-inflicted violence and witnessing a suicide or finding someone after they have died, whether you know the person or not, can be very traumatic. You may have intense feelings and reactions-this is a normal response to an abnormal event.
People who have lost a loved one to suicide are typically referred to as “suicide loss survivors” or “survivors of suicide loss.” People who have witnessed a suicide death, have come upon the deceased’s body after the fact, or have heard or read graphic details regarding the death are called “witness survivors.”
Reactions to witnessing a suicide death may include but are not limited to:
shock, numbness, detachment,
sudden onset of physical symptoms
change in appetite or substance use
preoccupation and distraction
depression and/or suicidal thoughts
confusion, irritability, guilt
hyper-vigilance or anxiety
isolating or compulsive behaviors
avoidance of the area
time feels distorted
Do you or someone you care about need help?
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to react to a trauma. While not everyone experiences symptoms, some people have symptoms that rise to the level of depression, intense anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress. If symptoms interfere with daily functioning, you may want to seek help for yourself or for someone you are concerned about. Help is available.
Mental Health Counselor: Request a trauma bereavement specialist at a private or community mental health center. A listing of NH Community Mental Health Centers can be found here.
National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Friends for Survival: 1-800-646-7322, leave message.
Victims Inc.: 603-335-7777 (NH Witness Survivors)
For information on how to support a loved one who is a witness survivor, please go to The Grief Toolbox
Please visit the Get Help page for additional telephone numbers and helping supports and resources. If you are suicidal or concerned about someone who you think may be suicidal dial 911 or 1-800-273-TALK.
“Witnessing a suicide, or discovering the body, whether it be a loved one or a stranger, leaves a picture in your mind that dims very slowly and never fully disappears. It is important to talk about what you have seen in the early days (with a qualified professional) when the impact is strong. The experience may be life changing.” Pat Rainboth, Victim’s Inc., NH
Development of resources for Witness Survivors in NH is a collaborative effort comprised of members from the NH witness survivor community, NAMI NH, the NH Bureau of Behavioral Health, and Victim’s Inc. The full article, “New Approaches To Helping The Witness To A Suicide: The Suicide Witness Survivor Outreach Program of NAMI New Hampshire”, can be found here.
Resources for NH First Responders, Mental Health Counselors, and Media – if you are in a position to provide Resource information to NH witness survivors and would like a supply of free wallet cards with information for witness survivors, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Media is encouraged to post resource information whenever reporting on suicide.