The first days

Immediately after the event, you might be feeling any one of the brain’s and body’s responses to trauma. Or you may be feeling detached and keen to get on with your day. All of this is a normal response.

Perhaps there was a lot happening at the scene, with other witnesses or emergency services around you.

Many people have said that it was only once they had left the scene and were alone that their reactions really kicked in.

What happens to our brain after a traumatic event?

When faced with trauma, your body and brain produce chemicals that prepare you for an emergency. This is where evolution kicks in, getting you ready to fight or escape from the danger (flight). Physically, this can lead to:

raised blood pressure

increased heart rate

increased sweating

It is also possible to feel completely numb or detached from what has happened. This too is your brain’s normal response to trauma. Other physical and mental responses can be:

● trembling and unsteady – need to sit or lie down

● crying – sobbing, tearful, screaming

● tense muscles – tight chest, hard to swallow

● headaches

● nauseous

● diarrhoea, constipation

● tired – exhausted, lack of energy

● wired – restless, wanting to move, bursts of energy

● sleep problems – sleeping less or more, hard to get to sleep, waking often, nightmares

● appetite changes – eating less or more

● hot and sweating or cold and shaky

● existing health conditions worsen

● falling ill more easily

● clumsier and more accident prone

● hard to focus or concentrate

● forgetful

● continually on alert

● difficulty making decisions or planning

● disturbing memories or thoughts

● distressing flashbacks

● extremely sensitive to any sounds, smells, tastes, sensations or sights that trigger bad memories

Time passing, rest, care and support can help these feelings to decrease and eventually go away.

Understanding emotions after a suicide incident

There are a range of emotions that you might feel after witnessing a suicide-related incident. People like you have told us that they have felt:

Guilty – that they had not been able to intervene or change what has happened

Frightened – that the same thing might happen again

Helpless – something bad happened to someone and there was nothing you could do to help

Angry – about what has happened, even anger with the person who has died is a normal emotion to feel at a time like this

Sad – you may be thinking of the person’s family and friends, or the event may have reminded you of people you have lost

Embarrassed or ashamed – you may feel that you shouldn’t be having these strong emotions as you did not know the person and you are not family or a friend

Relieved – that you are safe

Hopeful – that your life will return to normal

Numb – you may not feel anything at all. This is also an entirely normal, common response to trauma 

Finding out more about the person

You may find that you want to know more about the person who has died. This is very normal, and for some this can feel like closure. While emergency services will not be able to share details with you, you may see a news story or something on social media that tells you more about the person. 

Equally, you may want to avoid all news and information about the person who has died. It is entirely your personal decision to do what you feel is right for you.

As time passes, how you feel may change. We have put together some advice on moving on, based on what people have said helped them.

If you need more immediate help, go straight to Help and Support.