Historic Guidelines Focus on Helping the Suicide Bereaved

After 15 years of advocacy and work in peer support and training as a survivor of suicide loss, I am pleased to announce that a dozen of my colleagues and I on a blue-ribbon task force* have completed a historic document, Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After a Suicide: U.S. National Guidelines.

The Guidelines were announced earlier this month at the Association for Death Education and Counseling conference in San Antonio and at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Atlanta. I will be sharing on Open to Hope the content of an upcoming series of posts from the Grief After Suicide blog covering how this groundbreaking document is paving the way for reinventing suicide grief support in America. For instance, the Guidelines:

  • Summarize research evidence showing that exposure to suicide unquestionably increases the chances that those exposed — perhaps especially the bereaved — are at higher risk for suicide as well as for numerous, sometimes debilitating mental health conditions
  • Highlight the effects of a fatality on people beyond family members of the deceased, including friends, first responders, clinicians, colleagues, and others (even entire communities) who may require support in the wake of a suicide
  • Describe a new framework for classifying people who experience a suicide (Exposed, Affected, Short-Term Bereaved, and Long-Term Bereaved) that will help focus research and guide the development of programs and services to meet the unique needs of specific populations (see the graphic at bit.ly/continuummodel)
  • Organize interventions into separate, overlapping categories:
    • Crisis response, based on mental-health crisis and disaster response principles
    • Support from the familial, peer, faith-based, and community resources that help the bereaved cope with a death
    • Clinical treatment by professionals for conditions such as PTSD, Depression, and Complicated Grief
  • Argue that suicide bereavement is unique because death by suicide is unique (i.e., it involves questions about the deceased’s volition, the effects of trauma, the degree that suicide is preventable, and the role of stigma in people’s treatment of the deceased and the bereaved)
  • Present an outline of the research needed to expand and enrich what is known about suicide bereavement and other effects of suicide (which will lead to the development of evidence-based practices in suicide postvention)
  • Assert that suicide grief support efforts ought to be informed by research and clinical advances over the past 20 years in the fields of bereavement support, traumatology, and crisis and disaster preparedness
  • Include an appendix outlining numerous, practical resources for the suicide bereaved and those who care for them (please link to the expanded, online version of the resource clearinghouse)

An excerpt of the Guidelines (Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Acknowledgements, Preface) is available at bit.ly/excerptsosl, and the complete document is available at bit.ly/respondingsuicide.

*The Guidelines were created by the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Franklin Cook

More Articles Written by Franklin

Franklin Cook is the creator of a peer grief support telephone service called Personal Grief Coaching (http://bit.ly/copewithgrief). He blogs at Grief after Suicide (http://www.personalgriefcoach.info), and his complete, up-to-date bio is available at http://bit.ly/biofjcook. Franklin is a survivor of his father's suicide in 1978.


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  • Debra Klann says:

    My husband was severly mentally ill and had spent thd last month in a psych ward.He was not ready to be released. After his release he went to a Hotel while someone delivered his medication afterward he took an overdose of Depacote and the Hotel manager found him. He has been gone for 13 days now and i feel numb depressed and feek like im not in reality because of this. I loved my husband dearly and feel so hopeless and helpless because i cant see him, talk to him anymore, Its so final. And i feel so guilty and angry too at yhe Hospital for releasing him to soon. I have a Lawyer but that doesnt bring him back. I would give anything to have him by my side again.

    • Dion says:

      Debra, I lost my bf of 16 years the same way. He could barely sleep more than a few hours a night, then started taking meds, then delusional. First time psych ward type of place for 10 days, then they released him and shot himself within 2 weeks. It’s been 8 months and I am still in a crying daze most days. You’re not alone.