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For Loved Ones, After a Suicide Attempt

Recently, a man I have come to respect and care about attempted suicide. I am grateful he is still here to tell the tale. His suicide note was online and his pain was so evident it tore at my soul.

I was tremendously relieved to hear his friends had rescued him in time to save him. But I was then left with the problem as to what to say to this man. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was make the situation any more difficult for him.

What do you do when someone you care about just attempted suicide?

Suicide is About Pain

To be clear, people who attempt suicide aren’t doing it for fun, they aren’t playing at death nor are they looking for death. People who attempt suicide are trying to escape a life of (literally) unbearable pain. Suicide isn’t about death, it’s about pain.

42-15664207The Shame and Guilt of Suicide

And most people who have attempted suicide feel extremely bad about what they have done. They’re ashamed they committed the act and feel guilty they have put those around them through it. Waking up after a suicide attempt is no picnic.

What to Say to Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

So, understanding the person is already feeling bad about attempting suicide, there is no reason to make this person feel worse. You need to be supportive. You don’t need to support their action, but you need to support the person. They are hurting. All they want is to know you still care about them.

What Never to Say to a Person Who Has Attempted Suicide

The worst thing you can say to someone is about how selfish they are and how much they hurt you. These people already know that. These people are already beating themselves up. The last thing they need is to feel beaten up by you too. The more they feel rejected, the more likely they are to feel alone and to try to commit suicide again. What better reason is there to leave the planet than being in agony and finding out everyone suddenly hates you?

mp9004309241Stay With the Person, Remind Them Who They Are

This man I know who attempted suicide isn’t “the man who attempted suicide,” he’s a man who is brave, bold, generous and friendly. He is a man who gives to his community and a man that I respect. He is not a “suicide attempt.” A suicide attempt is only a symptom of his disease. It is not who he is. I know this. And now is the time to remind him. Because, unfortunately, he may have forgotten.

People need to feel included and loved for who they are. Yes, they may need company around them to make sure they do not hurt themselves further, but they also need it to feel human again. They feel horrible about what they did. They need to know people still love them and it will be OK.

But What about My Feelings?

You, as the loved one, have every right to feel worried, hurt, betrayed and many, many other things. I would never deny you those feelings. But right after a suicide attempt is not the moment to pick to express those. Call another friend and vent and cry if you need to. Get your own support. Make sure you are OK. But it’s not the moment to enter into a deep conversation with someone who has just faced death. Wait until they are stronger. And then you can both talk openly about the act’s effects and your feelings. It’s OK to talk about those things, but you have to pick your moment.

But above all try to remember, this person is the same person they were before they attempted suicide. They just fell victim to a very serious symptom of their disease. No more, no less.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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68 Responses to For Loved Ones, After a Suicide Attempt

  1. Hi Sally,

    I’m so sorry to hear your boyfriend may have attempted suicide. It sounds to me like that’s what it was regardless as to whether he wants to acknowledge it.

    One thing I need to tell you is that the suicide rate in veterans is _very_ high mostly because they do return with may serious post-trauma issues and often they don’t get treatment.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Treatment is available and it _does_ work. I won’t diagnose your boyfriend with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as, obviously, that would be inappropriate, but that may very well be the issue.

    I strongly recommend you look at this website, read the articles and if possible, buy the book. It will enlighten both you and your boyfriend so much about post-combat PTSD. Believe me, these authors know what they are talking about and many military personnel recommend the book:

    The knowledge gained in that volume, I believe, can help a lot.

    And try to talk your boyfriend into see a professional. It could be a doctor or psychiatrist from the VA or a therapist of his choosing, just make sure to get one that specializes in post-combat issues.

    Again, I stress, treatment is available and works. So many people come back from combat and are exactly in this situation, he’s not alone, and he can get better.

    (Also, here is a listing of hotlines to contact if help is needed and you’re not sure where to turn: )

    I hope that helps.

    - Natasha Tracy

    (Full disclosure – I do work with the author but do not benefit from book sales.)

  2. Pingback: Suicide and Suicide Attempt Resources | Bipolar Burble Blog | Natasha Tracy

  3. sonya says:

    I too can relate to someone who has attempted suicide. I recall when he mentioned it that he was drinking and I personally thought that he was attention seeking but to my surprise he was not. I felt so bad because this time he was truly crying out and was afraid to ask for help but I did not know how to help him. After this incident, I did not take anything that he said for granted. This was a valuable lesson for me as well.

  4. amanda says:

    Hi I tried hurting myself n my bf broke with me he said he was scared n only wants to be friends n there’s hope we might get back together but I’m so upset that the time I need him the most he left me I don’t even think…I mean I don’t know what to think

  5. Amber Bourgeois says:

    This is a wonderful article! Having struggled with this myself, I can certainly relate. The people around me who love me dearly were at a loss for so many complicated reasons. As common as suicide is, it is unfortunately very unique for each individual and the isolating effect of depression makes it hard to see another escape sometimes. When I came out on the other side of my suicide attempt I went through a huge range of emotions that I couldn’t expect anyone else to understand. But my husband was amazing because he supported me- especially when I didn’t have any answers to give either of us. Not everyone who attempts suicide needs the same thing, and not everyone can put in to words what they need, but I imagine that most people feel like I did – ALONE. So don’t push the person to explain or answer questions, just be present and don’t run away. I needed someone to hold me and not put pressure on me to change or move faster than I could. It’s a hard fight, and its a lonely fight, so having someone support you unconditionally is invaluable!!

  6. Sahree says:

    i recently had my boyfriend attempt suicide after a mindless act that he had created in front of my autistic son, after too many times of me asking, begging pleeing him not too cayy on these ways, i had nothing more to say to him after this, he kept calling my fone messaging me nasty things and the end result was his attempt… now only a few days later after him being released, he thinks he is fine and the relationship is still happening, my son is four years of age and has autism spectrum disorder, none of this i feel or find comforting to what i already face in my own life, i am a single mother i have raised this child on my own since 4 months into the pregnancy, still have issues with the childs father and now this…. someone help!!!!! this relationship began less than 6mths ago… i am usually strong but i feel i am actually dying inside,,

  7. Lidia Baruco says:

    My daughter in love had suicide attempt last week due to borderline syndrom . They were married just 2 months ago and now this. She put a rope around her neck so my husband and son helped her. Now my son has a póst trauma effect and want to go away to another country…he loves a lot but he doesn’t want to live the 48 hours of anxiety and panic until she was taken by the police to a hospital… how should I advice him…

  8. Lidia Baruco says:

    sorry the mistake…daughter in law..

  9. Leslie says:

    I found you because of twitter. :)

    This is a wonderful and sensitive article on this very important topic. Thanks.

  10. Linda says:

    my son admitted him self in to a mental health ward after feeling sueicidel for quite few weeks my son was crying out for help but it seemed the staff wasn’t listing to him my son had only been on this ward for a short time when he tried suicide by hanging in one of the wards bathroom when staff found my son they discharged him from the ward the very next morning know that my son was still badly feeling suicide and my son went missing for a few days going out our minds not knowing if he’s safe or not well on the 30/04/2013 my son turned up at my home at 5am and by 5pm my son had committed suicide by hanging he did it at home in my back bedroom sueicidel people really do not let on what there planning on doing they talk and act so normal around you my youngest son tried same last year but thank god I found him in time did CPR and saved my son but my oldest son was not so lucky my youngest son found is bro I am so proud of him my son helped to cut is bro down helped me with CPR I was asteracle and my son just said mum please try calm down I know it’s painful but we need try CPR even thro it was to late my son sat with is bro for 5 hours holding is bro hand and talking to him I’m now pushing for a full investigation in to why they released my son knowing he was still feeling sueicidel

  11. Alice says:

    But what do you do when the person in question isn’t brave, bold, or generous? What do you do when she’s an alchoholic, lying adultress who you didn’t respect much before the attempt let alone after? Am I still responsible for making her feel loved and included?

  12. Stacey says:

    My dad has attempted suicide a total of 4 times with many verbal warnings that landed him in a mental institution. THANK GOD he is still with us although I believe he doesn’t want to be here but his attempts have failed no matter the severity of them. This has happened within the last five year period. Being the one who has found him twice I know how it feels to walk back into the house that he attempted in, but he is having a hard time with being in the house now he says he hates being there. I believe it brings back the horrible memories. Any suggestions on what can be done seeing as there is not a possibility of selling at this time? We have tried everything every therapy facilities and we can seem to help him break through and it’s such a horrible feeling knowing that he is not “MY DAD” anymore.

  13. natasha lytell says:

    I attempted suicide on may 8th of this year. after a week in the hospital my husband no longer wants anything to do with me after almost 9 years and 2 children. he wants us just to be friends.

  14. Julia says:

    Do you feel guilty for having said or done something to this person that you think may have tipped them over the edge? It kind of sounds like it.

    BUT, that notwithstanding,I have to think about how to answer your question. My instinct would be to consider the type of relationship I had with the person before their attempt. If it was an ok one, then I would say you should maintain that relationship. If the relationship was estranged, which it sounds like it may have been,I would probably not do anything at all . . .unless for some reason I felt I owed them an apology, or the person has no one else to be a support for them.

    IF, in that case, you are thrown into that support role, you do not need to condone any of their lifestyle choices that are negative.You don’t want to feed them false hope–they’ll know that what you’re saying isn’t what you really think. Basically, you tell the person you are glad they are still alive because you believe they have a reason to be alive. There is some greater purpose, and this failed suicide is really an opportunity for that person to become the best they can be. That’s what you tell them, and you make sure you believe it yourself first before telling them.

  15. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for writing this article. Having survived a suicide attempt, your article made me feel very touched and I started crying when I read it. You are so right when you say that the amount of shame, guilt, remorse, humiliation that is felt after it’s over and you are now having to face the people you love MOST who you just hurt the most. I told a counselor I was afraid my daughter would never forgive me. Her response was that I need to forgive myself. Wow. That a tall order because there is nothing worse than trying to take your life when your child knows what you did.
    Thank you for this.

  16. Renee says:

    I attempted suicide today due to a list of major life issues too numerous to list here. ( severely injured and disabled from auto accident, loss of career and unable to work because of disability, husband of 23 years has affair while I was confined to a hospital bed and divorced me to be with his girlfriend, my BFF died suddenly from a rare fatal infection in a matter if hours and the list goes on and on) My mothers gut instinct told her something was wrong so she called my sister who I happened to be visiting at the time. My sister walked in the guest room I’m staying in just in time to see my take 50 pain pills. After having me throw them all up and calling the police to the house, she was very angry and upset at me – especially for messing up the 4th of July plans we had today at her friend’s house. Thankfully the police let me stay in my sister’s care and left. After being upset with me and letting me know I’m selfish for messing up her day, she just left with her daughter to go to her friends house for the party and left me alone at her house. I’m feeling even more depressed now and am scared to be alone. This article helped to let me know others have felt this exact same way. Thank you for that.

  17. Hi Renee,

    I’m so sorry you have gone through that. It sounds really tough but you aren’t alone. Many of us stand with you, no matter what your sister or others may say.

    Please reach out to someone and don’t stay alone in the home. Call a hotline if you need to:

    Please know that many of us have attempted suicide and we have gone on to survive and thrive. You can do it too, with time and help.

    - Natasha Tracy

  18. Rebecca says:

    My daughter just tried to commit suicide on Monday. The same day she was already released from a short term stay at the hospital for medication for her psychological disorders. On our way home she broke up with her fiancé and we got into an argument over her reasoning (he just quit his job and moved 800 miles to be with her) as soon as we arrived home, she kissed her little brothers goodbye and then went in a different room of the house and committed the act. I walked in on her half conscious and non responsive. I called 911 and had them take her back to the hospital. That night she called me and told me that it was mine and her now ex fiancé’s fault for what she did. Because we said things to her she didn’t want to hear. I admitted to her that I do not take back what I said because I meant every word. I told her that she needs help, and that what she just did was wrong if she had doubts two weeks ago (he moved here last week) she could have told him then!!!! She then hangs up on me and calls the next day to talk to him. She tells him he needs to be committed as well because he’s still here!!! And hangs up on him!!!! We do not hear from her until today, when she calls and tells me that she is being transferred on Wednesday and needs some stuff brought to her and hangs up. She is an adult by the way. She already knows she’s kicked out of the house behind this attempt (first real attempt- not first time self harm was performed) as I have 3 little boys and a teen in the household who should not witness these acts. She doesn’t ask how we are, she doesn’t say I love you any more, nothing. Even in the hospital she is distant. What do I do?! I feel like I really did lose my daughter to suicide, even though it was just an attempt!

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