Reaching out to bereaved family
Speaking to a Parent/Carer After a Death by Suicide: Information for Professionals
Be thoughtful about who delivers information and how it is communicated.
As a service provider, you may be the person at your organization responsible for contacting the parent(s) and/or guardians of a child/youth/young adult that has died by suicide.
This resource is meant to support you in making that call.
Before the call
- Ascertain if other organizations have made call already. Perhaps through communications with the Victim Crisis Unit of Ottawa Police Services/the school board/other organizations.
- Ensure that the family does not receive several calls from organizations.
When making the call
1. Offer condolences
- What other children/youth/young adults need to be informed?
- During the call:
- Explain the reason for your call;
- Enquire about which groups or individuals may also be impacted (e.g. hockey team, place of employment, extended family, etc.);
- What other children may be impacted by the news of your child’s death? Was your child involved in any recreational, social groups that will need to be informed?
- Ascertain how to refer to the death.
- Is it a suicide or simply a death?
3. Obtain consent
- Ask how would you like these groups of children/youth/young adults to get the information?
- Do you want us to make calls to the various organizations on your behalf?
- How do you want us to refer to the death of your child? Should we simply say they died, or can we say they died by suicide?
Note, research has identified a phenomenon known as suicide ‘contagion’, where a person’s knowledge of -or exposure to- a suicide increases their likelihood of viewing suicide as an option for themselves (Swanson & Colman, 2013). Being proactive, and letting children/youth/young adults know in a safe way can help to reduce the risk of contagion.
4. Help navigate/advise about next steps
- Provide advice about how to let other children know (friends, cousins, siblings)
- Be clear about what you can and can not offer (‘while I can’t offer a counselling service, I can call you back once to follow-up if that could be helpful?’, etc.).
- Offer to support them to navigate services. ‘I can help you figure out the steps to letting people know, and to accessing supports and counselling for you and your family’.
- Parent Lifeline’s of Eastern Ontario (PLEO) bilingual, confidential, helpline for caregivers of children, youth and young adults: 613-321-3211.Has a support group for parents who have lost a child to suicide and have other children as old as 25.
- Bereaved Families of Ontario- Ottawa Peer support groups offer safe and supportive spaces to be in grief, to share and to learn: (613) 567-4278
- The Walk-in Counselling Clinic No referral is required. Ontario residents within the Champlain LHIN will be assisted, with no appointment, on a first-come, first-serve basis during the clinic hours. (613) 238-8210
- Youth Services Bureau (YSB) for caregivers and youth under 18: 613-260-2360
- Good2talk for post-secondary students: 1-866-925-5454
- Distress Centre for all ages: 613-238-3311
- Kids Help Phone for young people: 1-800-668-6868
Books and for people who are impacted by suicide
Always with me, parents talk about the death of a child How does a parent cope after the death of a child?
Each essay in Always With Me: Parents Talk about the Death of a Child reveals the experiences of parents who have lived through the devastation and upheaval of their child’s death. Parents describe the maelstrom they face in their inner landscapes, coping strategies, and realigned place in the world.
The writers in this collection of stories take on such topics as shock and isolation, despair, guilt, and how they attempt to make sense of their shattered lives. They offer insights into how their grief and loss are worked through, and why certain personal connections are severed, others strengthened. Importantly, they describe how, with lives altered indelibly, they try to press forward to find a new place in the world.
This toolkit highlights strategies and coping suggestions, how to tell your story safely, hopeful messages, and provides resources.