The death of a coworker can be incredibly painful, and it’s easy to feel helpless or lost afterward. You have such strong emotions, and might even feel survivor’s guilt after a coworker’s suicide.
It may feel surreal or inappropriate to uphold professionalism and carry on as usual. In times like this, support is key. Your peers can show you it’s ok to talk about it, and it’s ok to struggle.
After a coworker’s death, ensure you have appropriate support for yourself – it’s like putting on your own oxygen mask, and that’s ok to do.
Getting support for yourself
Within your place of work, you can contact your company’s Human Resources department or Employee Assistance Program. These programs will likely be aware of the situation and can provide tailored support to you and others at your company who have been affected.
Outside of the workplace, you can contact a therapist, counselor, or other trained mental health professional for assistance. If you are searching for support, contact your insurance provider or visit Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool. Some schools and workplaces even offer connections to specific mental wellness resources, so be sure to ask about these possibilities.
If you feel more comfortable with group support, search for support groups in your area or try out anonymous peer support groups, online. If you’re searching in your area, look for groups dealing with grief or bereavement. If visiting Supportiv, indicate loss or grief as your topic, and you’ll be automatically matched with peers going through the same thing.
Sadness, anger, and guilt are common emotional experiences following the loss of a coworker to suicide. These feelings may be difficult or confusing to navigate. Let’s start by breaking them down a little bit.
You may find that you feel quite sad or empty after the loss of a coworker, even if you weren’t close. After all, you are automatically connected through your workplace. Therefore, you’re likely to feel a sense of community in your company that includes them. Due to the affiliative human nature, losing someone in your “ingroup” is inherently challenging. Often, the best way to combat these feelings is with enhanced connection. Reach out to your other colleagues and see how they’re doing. Reassure others that you are there for them if they need you. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help.
You might feel angry about the circumstances leading to your coworker’s passing. Whether you know the details or not, the situation is ultimately out of your control. This sense of a loss of control taps deep into the human need for free will and its assertion. Being unable to change your coworker’s suicide, then, can lead to intense feelings of frustration or anger. Moving forward, you can combat anger by taking control of your response to the situation — whether that’s getting help, providing help to others, or engaging in prevention and post-vention efforts within your workplace.
Thoughts like “If only I had known…” or “What if I had…” are all too common. While it’s natural to want to help others, we can’t take responsibility for the suffering of others. There is only so much we can do, and it’s not always possible to recognize the signs or get helpful support. A coworker’s suicide is heavily rooted in mental illness or other severe circumstances, and there are no easy solutions to these problems. Recognize that the best thing to do now is to take care of yourself and, to the extent that you can, others affected by the loss.
The value of supporting each other
When a coworker passes away, the entire team is affected. Paradoxically, everyone may be going through the same thing, but each person feels isolated and alone in handling it.
If you feel up to doing so, you might be interested in organizing a support meeting among your colleagues, a remembrance for the lost coworker, or a fundraiser for the coworker’s loved ones.
You can also reach out individually to your lost coworker’s loved ones and offer support. You might be able to provide assistance with transportation, meals, errands, or simple kind words. Furthermore, the simple act of doing something for someone else may make you feel a bit better.
Additionally, when someone commits suicide, the risk of suicide for those around them increases. Look out for your coworkers in this time. Learn (or review) the warning signs of suicidality, what you can do to help, and what resources are available.
If you suspect someone is in need of help…
Recognize the symptoms:
- Suicidal ideation (talking about suicide, saying things like “I would be better off dead” or “I wish I weren’t alive”)
- Severe emotional and/or physical pain
- Feeling like a burden or failure
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety, agitation, or recklessness
- Extreme mood swings
- Access to a means of suicide
Ask the right questions:
- “How are you feeling?”
- “Do you need help?”
- “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”
- “Are you thinking of ending your life?”
- “Do you have a plan to end your life?”
- “Would you like me to accompany you to the doctor?”
- “Would you like me to help you reach out to HR?”
- “Is there anyone I can connect you with that could help you?”
- “I’m here for you. Let’s find you some support together.”
- If your coworker is actively suicidal, has access to a means of suicide, and has a plan to commit suicide, immediately call 911 or a suicide hotline. This person is in immediate need of help.
- If they are suicidal, but don’t currently have plans to commit suicide, refer them to your company’s Human Resources Department or Employee Assistance Program. Or, assist them in contacting a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or emergency care location.
- Share the contacts listed below with a coworker who may be at risk of suicide, or call on their behalf.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Spanish Language Hotline: 1-888-628-9454
Hotline for the deaf or hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889
(For those struggling with substance abuse) SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline: 1-800-662-4357
(For sexual assault survivors) RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
(For LGBT youth) Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Text Line: 741741
Lifeline Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
Your Company’s Human Resources Department or Employee Assistance Program
Download and print the below wallet card for easy reference.
It’s never your fault
Do your best to provide support within your company and look out for your colleagues. Remember that you never know what someone else is going through — so the next time a colleague, boss, or employee makes a mistake, extend empathy and kindness.
On the other hand, no matter how hard we try, how attentive we are, and how kind we are, we aren’t superhuman. We won’t always be able to spot the signs or help someone.
It’s common to struggle with negative emotions after the death of a coworker.
Guilt, sadness, and anger are usually the worst after a coworker’s suicide. If you’re experiencing these feelings and want to feel better in the moment, reach out in a supportive place, on demand. Supportiv provides on-demand, anonymous, and personalized peer support.