Support after a suicide on campus

Dear Alice,

How can students get support after a suicide on campus?

Dear Reader, 

Exposure to suicide on campus can lead to a range of reactions and emotions. Reaching out for support through on-campus mental health services or through support groups in your community may help you work through your emotions. Further, reaching out to the larger community may help to provide wider support for you and suicide prevention overall. 

Those who have lost loved ones or acquaintances to suicide may find it helpful to talk through the experience as a way to cope. They may choose to talk to friends, family members, or a mental health professional. Students can find out if their school has a counseling center that provides individualized support from a mental health professional. For free one-on-one support, Healing Conversations connects individuals to volunteers—also survivors of suicide loss—via phone or in person. 

Support groups can be a way to unpack the experience with others who have also lost someone in their lives to suicide. To find a nearby support group, check out the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education’s (SAVE) website, which has a database of support groups across the country. There are also several organizations that are working towards mental health promotion as a method of suicide prevention on college campuses. These organizations include Active Minds, The Steve Fund, and The Jed Foundation, among others. They may be able to provide more support on campuses, be it through campus chapters or through work with campus leadership. 

When it comes to the larger community response following a suicide, be it a university, school, city, community center, or something else, suicide prevention groups suggest focusing on postvention. Postvention includes addressing the grief of community members and preventing suicide contagion—the phenomenon where one suicide can influence others to also attempt suicide. Communities may want to consider forming suicide prevention coalitions to support the needs of the survivors of suicide loss, which in turn helps to prevent contagion. These coalitions may encourage affected individuals to identify and practice coping strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, and physical activity. They may also be able to connect those who are grieving or struggling with their own mental health to resources and other sources of support. In the case of schools, they may even be able to take measures to help lighten the workload and potentially grant the student time away. 

Losing someone to suicide can be tremendously difficult, and each person and community will process this loss differently. There's no one right answer for how to confront such a horrific tragedy, but seeking and fostering connection and support is a start. It can also be helpful to encourage people to reach out for support with their own suicidal thoughts. For those considering suicide, support can be found through The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. 

Thanks for asking this question—having a better understanding of how to navigate support and working toward prevention begins with seeking out this type of information. 

Last updated Sep 08, 2023
Originally published Feb 06, 2009