Residence Life Staff Member Guide for Dealing With a Suicide or Student Death in Their Building
Note: The central themes of concern to members of a living unit where there has been a recent suicide or death of a resident are outlined below. These themes are listed sequentially, in the order they are usually brought up by residents. Suggested guidelines for RA/RM are noted for below:
- Encourage residents to express their feelings in response to the student death. Being available for residents to express their feelings in response to the student death is essential. It can be important to let them know that the myriad of responses they are experiencing (i.e., guilt, denial, anger, etc.) are quite normal and understandable and that they are not the only one feeling this way.
- Questioning what prompted the suicide death. Residents often collectively and individually, harbor fears that their action or lack of action may have contributed to the suicide. After they have expressed their fears, it is usually helpful to assure them that suicide motivation is often set in motion years before the suicide actually takes place. Residents should be encouraged to speak to someone in the Counseling Center about these feelings especially if they persist.
- 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 both outwardly and inwardly to death and that each person should be allowed to grieve in his or her own way.
- 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 RA/RM can help alleviate their guilt by encouraging them to resume their daily schedules and by confirming the importance of not allowing the death to become central to their daily lives. Should you notice a resident who seems unable to get back to their “normal” routine you are encouraged to refer them to the Counseling Center.
- Feeling a heightened sense of responsibility to recognize suicidal signs in others in the future. Residence Life Staff often feel a heightened sense of responsibility to prevent future suicides within their living unit. This is manifested by feeling a need to closely monitor an individual in the living unit who seems depressed, giving up your needed study time to talk with the resident if they seem troubled, etc. While these actions seem commendable, it is important for the RA/RM to understand the limitations of one’s responsibility and impact in such circumstances. Staff members are strongly encouraged to refer these residents for counseling at the Counseling Center and avoid taking on that role themselves.
- Coping with their own needs in the wake of the death. Residents will exhibit a wide range of individual needs following a suicide or the unexpected death of a fellow resident. Some will be afraid to be alone for a few days, others may have haunting dreams, etc. They usually express a desire to have these needs attended to. The RA/RM can let them know it is legitimate and important that their individual adjustment to the suicide receive attention. Residents may initially be able to meet each other’s needs for companionship, support, etc., if these needs are expressed. However, the RA/RM should encourage residents to go to see a counselor to help them sort through their feelings and especially if they persist.