Conducting a Group Session in a Living Unit Following a Suicide

Note: The central themes of concern to members of a living unit where there has been a recent suicide are enumerated below. These themes are listed sequentially, in the order they are usually brought up by residents. Suggested interventions for the counselor are noted for each theme.

  1. Expressing their feelings in response to the suicide. Obviously, helping residents express their feelings in response to the suicide is essential. It also seems important to let them know that the myriad of responses they are experiencing (i.e., guilt, denial, anger, etc.) are quite normal and understandable.

  2. Questioning what prompted the suicide. Residents often collectively and individually, harbor fears that their action or lack of action caused the suicide. After they have expressed their fears, it seems helpful to assure them that suicide motivation is typically both complicated and set in motion years before the suicide actually takes place.
  3. Expecting grief to be displayed uniformly within the group. Some residents will probably expect or want the group to respond uniformly in their grief. These residents are usually quick to notice that some individuals appear quite grief-stricken while others do not. It is important to help them understand that individuals respond differently, outwardly and inwardly, to suicide and that this should be allowed.

  4. Wanting to get back to normal. While residents feel a desire to get back to normal (i.e., dating, studying, etc.), they often feel guilty about these feelings. The counselor can help alleviate their guilt by giving them permission to resume their daily schedules and by confirming the importance of not allowing the suicide to become central to their daily lives.

  5. Feeling a heightened sense of responsibility to recognize suicidal signs in the future. It seems residents often feel a responsibility to prevent future suicides within the living unit. This is manifested by feeling a need to closely monitor an individual who seems depressed, giving up needed study time to talk with co-resident if they seem troubled, etc. While these actions are commendable, it seems important for the counselor to underscore the limitations of oneís responsibility and impact in such circumstances. Residents should be encouraged to suggest counseling to a co-resident rather than taking on that role themselves.

  6. Coping with their own needs in the wake of the suicide. Residents will exhibit a wide range of individual needs following a suicide. Some will be afraid to be alone for a few days, others will have haunting dreams, etc. While they usually express a desire to have these needs attended to, they often feel selfish in this regard. The counselor can let them know it is legitimate and important that their individual adjustment to the suicide receive attention. Residents may be able to meet each otherís needs for companionship, etc., if these needs are expressed. Residents should also feel free to seek counseling.

 

 
The Office of the Dean of Student Life is a department in the Division of Student Affairs.