For Loved Ones, After a Suicide Attempt

Monday, July 11 2011 Natasha Tracy

It's hard to know what to do after someone attempts suicide. People who have attempted suicide need support and understanding and a reminder they are loved.

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.

The 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?

Stay 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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitterGoogle+ and Facebook.

View all posts by Natasha Tracy.

For Loved Ones, After a Suicide Attempt

Ash
says:
July, 12 2011 at 6:26 am

Another great post. I consider myself so lucky that I have friends who have supported me after a near suicide attempt. I say near because I was stopped just before. If it wasn't for their support, I likely would not have survived, and if I had I'd probably wish I had died. I can't thank them all enough. It was my disease, not me wanting to die, and I still feel guilty for putting everyone through it (though they don't blame me).

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Joshua monty
says:
May, 13 2018 at 10:59 pm

Wow......after my suicide attempt all my wife did was text my mom who is hundreds of miles away. That was it my little sister found me in the ER. Then the ER kicks me out and my wife dumps me......alone......in our house.....after giving me a we aren't husband and wife anymore letter. She took my kids my retirement and just moved on.....like I was dead....has a full biz of my credit and retirement. I am disabled no law help. So many comments of understanding.....all I got from my wife was....the section of what not to say.

Cass
says:
August, 26 2018 at 3:23 pm

Hi Joshua, I am so sorry you had to face this. You are not alone. It’s so tough to understand what the other person is thinking. But most important I hope you are doing well. Hugs from a stranger who cares.

Amanda
says:
July, 13 2011 at 4:51 am

'People who attempt suicide are trying to escape a life of (literally) unbearable pain. Suicide isn’t about death, it’s about pain.'

so so true, but almost impossible for those who have not been there to really understand x

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 13 2011 at 5:38 am

Hi Ash,

You're lucky to have such supports, for sure. It would be great if we all had those.

- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 13 2011 at 5:39 am

Hi Amanda,

I agree. It's a tough idea to get across to someone who has not experienced much pain.

- Natasha

Sandra
says:
July, 13 2011 at 6:54 am

Get well soon cards and flowers, which are so often not received in the psych ward unlike all the other hospital wards.

Amanda
says:
July, 13 2011 at 9:23 am

good point. i would love to receive cards or flowers while dealing with this crap x

samantha
says:
July, 13 2011 at 3:08 pm

Great post! Suicide is about the pain not death. I have experienced this and it is so hard for people who have not experienced that level of pain to understand your thoughts of just wanting the pain to stop. I have experienced mental and physical pain both on extreme levels and I would much prefer to experience physical pain. We can be prisoners in our minds and when the torment is too much to handle we desperately search for a way to stop it; sometimes the only logical solution is suicide. That is why it is so important to be the light for these people who are imprisoned in their mind, you might be the light they can use to find their way out of the darkness.

Lori
says:
July, 13 2011 at 3:13 pm

I hate that people think that suicide is a selfish act. It is the feelings that everyone would be better off without me in their live that one feels when they are suicidal. They are thinking of others and not about themselves per se. They just want to end the emotional pain and can see no other way out. It is not a selfish act but an act of desperation.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cass
says:
August, 26 2018 at 3:26 pm

Lori, you are so true. My story is a parent felt to be a burden and was in immense physical pain and felt she was hurting her family by existing. Now, we just try to support her as best as possible and never judge. Thank you for your words. They mean a lot and hit close to home.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 13 2011 at 3:57 pm

Hi Samantha,

"We can be prisoners in our minds and when the torment is too much to handle we desperately search for a way to stop it; sometimes the only logical solution is suicide."

Yup, that is the trouble. And I do believe it takes others to be the light because we can't all be our own light all the time.

- Natasha

else
says:
July, 13 2011 at 4:01 pm

Remind them who they are - yes! this is by far the keystone I think... This has got to be tailored to the person and you've got to try hard NOT to be reminding them who they were (before illness) or who they could be if they weren't sick... Got to keep things immediate and concrete. If possible, show that you value their humour, their opinions, their company, their ideas, their help, their love - them, themselves, who they are.

I wish your friend a full recovery and a peaceful, rich life.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 13 2011 at 4:03 pm

Hi Lori,

"It is not a selfish act but an act of desperation."

Well said. It can be hard to see it that way when you're looking on at someone who you don't want to leave your life, however.

- Natasha

Lynn Tolson
says:
July, 13 2011 at 4:05 pm

At 12 years old, I wrote: "If I could die, it would be so easy, just to leave the pain behind." Then I took a bottle of Excedrin. It would take another 10 years before I used more lethal methods. My point is that even before adolescence, I knew it was about the pain, and not about the death. My father committed suicide when I was 19, I have a brother who killed himself when he was 26, and I was 23 when I took 300 pills. It is decades later that I finally hear others like myself talk about having survived their own suicide attempts. I no longer feel the shame, but society still holds a stigma.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cass
says:
August, 26 2018 at 3:28 pm

Thank you for sharing. All too often we are a society of “me-first”. If we got out of that mindset, we would understand and empathize. Imagine how much kinder this world would be?

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 13 2011 at 4:09 pm

Else,

Such a great comment. Thanks for contributing. I'm going to share it on Facebook.

- Natasha

Mary Ann
says:
July, 14 2011 at 5:45 am

When I attempted suicide as a senior in college...my family refused to acknowledge my attempt..they insisted that my overdose was an "accident" and never spoke of it further...that attitude was very unhelpful...I would have preferred that they at least acknowledge that I was in acute pain and suffering...it was partially fall out from being raped in a foreign country as an exchange student some years previous...they refused to acknowledge that incident either...I feel that I would have experienced a very different and better life, if my family had shown some understanding and compassion instead of denying my experiences...

Beverly
says:
July, 14 2011 at 7:07 am

In the past I have attempted sucide many times---the most serious ones came very close to ending my life. The first attempt came when I was 19--and I came very close to dying due to extreme blood loss.
While I was only trying to see in anyone in my extremely dysfunctional family was aware of what I was going thru..not a soul recognized it---I was being abused sexually by my worthless relative (I don't claim him as a brother)...except when I had to undergo surgery to heal the problem. The doctor who treated me. He advised my parents to seek psychological help but to no avail.
I struggled with this for 7 years before someone really cared enough to help me receive counseling. It wasn't until sometime later did I realize why I did continue in self harm.
I know from my own experiences that suicide attempts are not about death--they are about escaping from or at least putting a temporary halt on the emotional pain that I live with.
Coming back from the attempts isn't easy either. My sisters--every so often, now will say "don't do that" ever again....I can't promise them I won't. No one, I mean no one knows how desperate anyone is who attempts suicide unless they have been at that point in their lives--they can 'assume' how it feels!

Cat
says:
July, 14 2011 at 7:09 am

Tell them the most important life saving, soul saving truth there is, that Christ died for them to forgive them and bring them home to Him, not to destroy themselves in a world that doesn't care and be lost forever with the satan who deceived them about life in the first place. Look to Jesus, who saves and loves you enough to pay the price for your sins, and wants you with Him for eternity! He turns your life around 180 degrees; there is no sin or shame or hurt too big for Him to take from you, He took the suffering of the Cross didn't He? Just accept His free gift of salvation and you are secured everlasting. You see, He has a purpose for you, thats why you are not dead and lost forever right now! Praise God! He loves You! His will and mercy endures forever! Amen.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 14 2011 at 7:27 am

Lynn,

You are not alone in surviving a suicide attempt. Most people who attempt suicide do, indeed, survive. Yes, there is still stigma and shame around it, but it is common among those with a mental illness. We fight the stigma by being honest (when possible) and understanding that this action is a symptom of a disease and there is nothing wrong with "us" as people.

- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 14 2011 at 7:30 am

Mary Ann and Beverly,

Denial is common and very destructive. You can't get help about something you can't admit happened. And your family can't support you if they can't acknowledge what you're going through. I'm sorry that is your experience.

It's particularly sad because people _can_ and _do_ come back from these events every day, but denial just makes that harder.

- Natasha

Jim Dickinson
says:
July, 14 2011 at 8:41 am

My first attempt was when I was 54. I've heard the knee-jerk responses to my attempts too many times: it was such a selfish act; how could you do this to me (us); if you had more faith God would protect and heal you from your pain; you're not welcome to be a leader in our church anymore because of your attempts and your mental illness (I was a minister at the time); if you had succeeded, you'd have gone to hell because suicide is murder, and no murderer can enter heaven. I have been made by some to feel like a spiritual outcast. What I'd like to hear? Very little (except from my therapist). I need to hear love and respect and support in whatever words are spoken, and see those those things acted out in kindness. At 60 now, I'd accept offers to help with mowing the lawn, fixing a meal...I have a long list of things that need to be done around my home that I've been too paralyzed by pain to deal with. Though it's been around 5 years since my last formal attempt, thoughts are never very far under the surface, and that, in itself, is a source of pain.

I know full well how much God loves me and that He has a plan for me. I also know that if I do one day succeed at suicide, that there will be a welcome for me in heaven, not hell. Some sympathy is acceptable, some admonishment by someone I respect may be acceptable, but total silence or shunning can cause even more pain and guilt and shame. A few simple, unselfish words are so much appreciated.

Thank you, Natasha, for your perceptive words of encouragement. They've brought tears both from what others have suffered, as well as from what I've gone through.

pat
says:
July, 14 2011 at 9:35 am

My youngest son attempted suicide many times, the first time at 14. He finally succeeded 2 years ago at 21. Each time, it was so hard to see his face when he realized he was still alive. The only words I had for him were "I love you." Unfortunately, all the love in the world isn't enough to save someone who does not want to be saved.
That being said, I know he felt even worse when he went back to school after being released from the hospital, and he was treated like a freak. By teachers, administrators, classmates and even friends. No one seemed to realize he was still the same person.

Lindsay
says:
July, 14 2011 at 10:04 am

Last year I attempted suicide 3 times and it was extremely difficult to try to build myself up afterwards. I just remember feeling so fragile and disconnected from everyone else. It took a while before I was able to do even simple things like run to the store for milk without feeling out of place. I fully understand denial with family members. My family has never accepted or really even acknowledged my mental illness; it's always been like the shameful family secret no one talks about.

After the suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalizations most of my family still has a very difficult time dealing with it. After the 3rd attempt though my husband and mom finally faced my illness head-on. They were scared when they realized how much pain I was in and how I couldn't see anything past the darkness. They finally "got it.". They read and researched everything they could about bipolar, depression, and suicide and have been amazing resources. It's such a contrast to the support I had before and it's made all the difference in healing this time around.

Mary Ann
says:
July, 14 2011 at 10:41 am

Thanks for your comments Natasha...indeed I received no support from my family, but plenty of condemnation (particularly behind my back) Of note...my father was a physician...he is still living and still makes unhelpful comments about me behind my back..that usually drift back to me through other family members...I no longer take any of this personally..and know that it is his shortcoming...not mine. I have been an R.N. for many years and have worked in many areas...though for the past six years or so I have worked as a psychiatric nurse...I have tremendous compassion for those I have cared for who have also attempted suicide...it is so worth it to keep on keeping on...no matter what the challenges...when you fall down...you just get back up and if you have support...all the better...

Terry Garahan
says:
July, 14 2011 at 3:09 pm

I provided mental health crisis services in Tompkins County New York for 23 years. I saw at least 2-5 suicidal people every week during that time. People take their lives to escape psychological pain, not to punish others. Unfortunately suicide is a permanant solution to a temporary problem. I write about suicide and blend policy issues with personal stories in my blog, Mental Health Resolution. http://mentalhealthresolution.blogspot.com
You may find it interesting. Thanks, Terry Garahan

Sue
says:
July, 14 2011 at 5:10 pm

I lost my brother 3 months ago to suicide, and a few other family members also to this terrible reality of mental illness. It most definitely is about escaping the pain, not about death, because I know my brother and other family members would not want death or all the pain that has happened to our family afterwards. They were loving and caring, but fought mightily against the pain and got treatment, but could not tell us how horrible it really was for them. Thanks for pointing out the need for compassion and support for those who attempt and survive, along with those who are dealing with the pain of losing someone to suicide. This so desperately needed in our society!

Anne Marie
says:
July, 14 2011 at 6:44 pm

My daughter was suicidal last year & fortunately, prior to her attempting suicide, I realized it and she was admitted to the hospital at age 13. She will likely struggle with this desire off and on in the future as she is bipolar.

I am so sorry for all of you who have family who deny you and your feelings, your pain & illnesses. I also am so hurt that humans are so weak, and so many walk in their flesh, selfish, prideful, judgmental, etc. and do not seek to live life through the Spirit of the Lord which is given to anyone who seeks Jesus, believes in Him & asks for His gift of salvation. Unfortunately, for now, God's children on earth, those who are saved, are still humans with flesh & susceptible to temptation & sin, even those in church, even those in ministry, can act in selfish, judgmental ways, still sin and harm others around them. They create false images of who God's children are, they create the hypocrisy we see in churches. They hurt many people because it is a choice and work to walk in the Spirit of the Lord & deny the desires of the flesh.

I pray that all of you will see the Jesus Christ in the true light of who He is - Love, Forgiveness, Grace (the gift of salvation even though we do not deserve it), Redemption, Hope, Salvation from this life. I am alive and able to support my daughter, help her through dealing with her father's death, and with the struggles that bipolar creates because I was saved and reborn again as a new creation in Christ Jesus when I was 40. The old me is gone and I am a new creation. I work very hard at living life in God's Spirit at all times. Unfortunately, sometimes, my flesh, anger, pride, hurt, selfishness, exhaustion, whatever, will push me to react in the flesh and it's not the Spirit of God acting in me at that time. Thankfully, my daughter is also saved, and usually she realizes when I am weak like that and forgives me. I know we are so blessed to have the Lord & each other.

I really want to encourage each of you to find a friend who is a child of God, who works to walk in the Spirit of the Lord, to walk with you through life. Ask at your local church for someone to mentor you or to be a friend and visit 1/week. Please, I know if you ask, someone will volunteer and you will have a new friend & support person who sees life differently than your family. Be patient and try to find someone who walks in the Spirit to walk beside you. For us, this friend (her name is Jane), blessed us so much, that she has saved our lives. I pray the same thing happens for you. When you feel strong, go to a church and ask for someone. If you don't like the first person, ask for someone else. Don't walk through life alone, don't judge God/Jesus by humans who are weak. This person can be who God loves you through and it's so beautiful and such a blessing to be loved by God like that - and supported through these difficult times. God bless each of you.

Kate
says:
July, 14 2011 at 8:22 pm

I have bipolar disorder. In college I suffered from severe depression. When I felt as if I was in a black hole that I could not get out of, I made a suicide attempt. In my psychotic state I lit my clothes on fire. I thank God that miraculously someone found me before I died. My upper body was burned, including my face and neck. I am severely scarred, both physically and emotionally. Physically, you can't miss the scars. Emotionally, I have to look at myself in the mirror everyday and be reminded of my suicide attempt. I know the feeling of being a "freak."

This happened many years ago. Life is not easy when you have people staring and many people know what happened. Most people say nothing and just wonder why I have scars. Some ask what happened. Others know and don't say anything.

There must be others out there who have had this experience with suicide, obvious scars for all to see. I don't ever hear of them. I live with terrible feelings of guilt and self-punishment. I have been in therapy all these years but still struggle everyday. I am wondering what one says when people ask what happened? I say it was a dramatic event in my life and I prefer not to talk about it, but that isn't enough for some...

I want to add that I have a loving husband and children who don't "see" the scars. They only see me. And I am grateful for that!

Paul
says:
July, 15 2011 at 4:56 am

For me, I have not been the same person as I was before my suicide attempts. I don't trust life, I don't trust other people, myself, nor am I concerned about dying. It is often a struggle to find the motivation to get through times when my attachment to life is low. Recognizing my feelings will change and doing whatever it takes to get locked up in a psych ward is the only thing which allows me to survive these low points. As selfish as it may be, the effect of my suicide on friends and family members does not inhibit me from wanting to kill myself nor do appeals to Christ.

Beth
says:
July, 15 2011 at 6:36 am

The WORST thing someone can say to me when I am at my lowest is to talk about God and how much he loves me and how he has "a plan" for my life. All I can think at that point is, if this is his plan, I want nothing to do with it. I don't enjoy being preached to when I'm feeling well, let alone at a time like that. The person may think they are offering words of support and comfort, but to me they feel patronising and make me feel so much worse, kicking up even more feelngs of resentment, guilt, and shame.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 15 2011 at 8:05 am

Kate,

"There must be others out there who have had this experience with suicide, obvious scars for all to see. I don’t ever hear of them. I live with terrible feelings of guilt and self-punishment."

You are not alone there. I have many, many scars, although more from self-harm than suicide. And no, people don't ask about them. People are terrified as to what I would say. And I don't really blame them. It's a scary freaking thing. It scares me. And I have them.

Yes, you have outward signs of your battle. You have war wounds, like many a great warrior. This makes you strong. Strong that you stood in the face of death. Strong that you carry those wounds and yet continue to live better and do better. Your scars are brilliant - they are signs of your success.

How other people see those scars really is irrelevant. As you say, people who love you will see _you_ and not the flesh you carry.

- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 15 2011 at 8:12 am

Beth,

"The WORST thing someone can say to me when I am at my lowest is to talk about God and how much he loves me and how he has “a plan” for my life. All I can think at that point is, if this is his plan, I want nothing to do with it. I don’t enjoy being preached to when I’m feeling well, let alone at a time like that. The person may think they are offering words of support and comfort, but to me they feel patronising and make me feel so much worse, kicking up even more feelngs of resentment, guilt, and shame."

I would tend to agree. I have real problem with people proselytizing at the best of times but when someone's ill, I really feel like it isn't appropriate. The person has so much to deal with; sorting out someone else's religion shouldn't be heaped on them too.

- Natasha

Mary Ann
says:
July, 15 2011 at 1:22 pm

I find Anne Marie's comments to be most unhelpful...and I also find that proselytizing is absolutely the last thing I ever want to hear about...my unhelpful, judgmental family alienated me with their constant proselytizing about the Lord, etc. Their extreme fundamentalism was a form of patriarchal discrimination towards females...and a huge contribution to feeling inadequate and experiencing low self esteem.

My father had four daughters and he wanted sons...as girls, we were marginalized, controlled and shamed for everything we did that was thoughtful and creative...My poor mother became a compulsive shopper to offset his constant degradation of her...every sentence that came out of her mouth was interrupted by my Fundamental Christian father...he ruled the roost and let us know all the time...if I could have experienced more open communication it would have been extremely helpful...When ever I attempted to communicate with my mother via phone..he usually took the phone from her very shortly after we began to speak..As soon as I became an adult..I moved far away and never went back home...that was one of the healthiest moves I ever made...Thanks Natasha for addressing the religious aspect that may comfort some...but served quite the opposite influence for me...I do have spiritual values, but not couched in a patriarchal religion...

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 15 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hi Mary Ann,

I try to be very careful about religion. I'm glad the line I walked worked for you. Congratulations on defining your healthy boundaries with your family.

- Natasha

Peter S. Chamberlain
says:
July, 15 2011 at 6:26 pm

Excellent post, which I am adding to my relevant save and pass on file.
I have survived suicide attempts, and, in my last real suicidal crisis, in 1982, after going several years without getting suicidal after some earlier treatment, got way too close to something irrevocably lethal and with a backup to guarantee death when I realized I had got through this before with expert help, stopped, and called The Suicide & Crisis Center in Dallas. Years later, I met the great trained volunteer who took that call after hiring her daughter in law and she remembering it after the subject of her having been a volunteer crisis line counselor there had come up. I had already met some of their other great people.
I have caught on, sometimes on inexplicable "Go check on X" impulses, and intervened in some suicidal crises, but nobody can catch all of these even if trained to spot the warning signs. I had just told my secretary my kid brother, in a distant state, was the stable one when she answered a call and we learned that he had killed himself (1976). Comparing notes after his funeral, several of us just looked at each other because even those without any training in this realized that, if we had known what he had told each of the others, not all living nearby, the picture of an impending suicide was clear. On another occasion, a colleague and legal client's daughter had initiated a conversation with me on a troubling subject but I had totally missed her being suicidal and she was hospitalized in critical condition after someone discovered she had attempted suicide that night; she survived.
One of the weird parts is that, having got this under control years earlier with treatment, I got the momentary impulse to kill myself when I learned of my kid brother’s suicide under control within seconds before walking ten feet and didn’t have the problem again until 1982, six years later. I was very depressed, but, interestingly, not suicidal, when I benefitted from my first in-patient treatment for this in 1996, after which I quickly returned to work. The closing of the building where I officed, scattering some important relationships, and some other problems, apparently triggered the 1982 crisis. I suffered an extremely painful and frustrating situation in 2000 that might well have caused me to go suicidal earlier but did not.
I lobbied and testified, in the late sixties and early seventies, in support of what eventually became Texas’ first doctor-patient and then our first psychotherapist-client privacy law, including my proposed amendment to ensure group therapy situations would be covered, and, after I recovered from the later deep depression in 1982 noted above, discussed my history of suicidal depression, treatment, recovery, etc. on television and with a lot of judges, juvenile probation and detention, child protective services, school, and other people. I have represented more actively suicidal clients than I can count, ranging in age from pre-school up, in a number of contexts, and known many more in two extensive rounds of group therapy, etc.
A lot of this arises, as we know, from cognitive distortions, but I never forget that, the first time, and the first several times, anybody tried to discuss that with me while I was deeply depressed and maybe suicidal, that caused me to distort and misunderstand, and thus to think this meant that I was mentally defective and no good. It took a long time and a lot of expert work before anyone could show me that I could, and how I could, exercise some control over this. That was a really big turning point. Cognitive restructuring works with me, but I have also been back on antidepressants, first taking which was a relief like turning off a live wire you have touched, since 1982 and expect to use these for the rest of my life.
I’ve never had to talk a kid down off a ledge or water tower, much less climb up there, and hope my offer to do that if necessary, when the school superintendent asked the local Ministerial Alliance for help and discussed the jarring rates of suicide attempts and other lethal behaviors among student with us, which I had already seen on the county’s children’s mental health plan advisory committee and another school district’s special education committee, having the director of the child and adolescent unit at a local mental hospital as a client, and a lot of suicidal young clients, etc., isn’t needed. Sometimes I think in double-takes and I have been known to say the wrong thing under stress.
Being non-judgmental is crucial, as you note. I’ve been involved in many of these conversations, professionally, within therapeutic confidences, and otherwise, with people, from age five up, who have made serious attempts to kill themselves, in many of which the issue of hospitalization was still being resolved, and I just met them and don’t usually get enough time with them. I wish I could, but never have been able to, remember and write down what each of us said and how the person reacted to what I had said, but I’m not able to do that. The objectives of the conversation are to offer acceptance of the person and love or friendship, as appropriate, depending upon whether you knew them before or just met them, and support. You want to encourage, but not pressure, them into opening up and talking, so you may want to use the kind of open-ended questions, recommended for jury selection, calculated to get the person to open up and talk about their concerns, either then or later when they may be more ready to talk. I have an uncorrectable vision problem that prevents me from catching a lot of visual cues in conversations, and a top jury selection expert advised us to take along a very perceptive sociology student, etc., something I had already been doing in jury selection. One of my favorites can’t get licensed because of her mental health history but she’s great at things like this, catching cues for lying, etc. Anything that someone in that depressed and suicidal state might perceive, correctly or incorrectly, as critical or authoritarian should be avoided. Don’t try to get them to explain their being suicidal, because I’ve been there and sometimes I can’t explain it in any terms I think most people, especially most who have never been there or have not had any special training, could possibly understand.
Having survived both suicidality and attempts, and the suicide of a family member, I would normally have made a point of speaking with a professional colleague I knew when his son, who I did not know, committed suicide, but I never could figure out how to do this in this particular case because his surviving father, who I had thought I knew, had recently stated publicly that he did not believe in suicide prevention and instead believed that some people should kill themselves. He is not alone among people I have heard say such things as “if you think you should kill yourself you are probably right,” etc who I think should know better. There is an old legal maxim that no man is a proper judge in his own case, and that certainly ought to include a decision where life, “in favor of [which] every presumption is indulged” per another one, is in issue. There seem to be an increasing number of people who believe that the best contribution most people—most of “those other” people, including anyone with any manner of mental illness or other disability--can make to life is to leave it. Most of the people I have met who suffered suicidal depression were definitely not “undesirables.” “They came for the . . .”

Neill Blake
says:
July, 16 2011 at 5:47 pm

Natasha,
Thank you for this well-written post! I also really appreciate the comments to your post. I agree that proselytizing usually does more to alienate people than to draw them closer to God. In my experience, most people with a serious medical condition wrestle with faith issues and compassion speaks louder than preaching. In an effort to reduce stigma in the faith communities, I have made several presentations and am continuing to work on a "Faith and Mental Health" program through NAMI. It is designed to help educate and equip leaders/members of all faiths about serious mental illness and the resources that are available. Once the "church people" have the basic education about serious mental illness as a medical condition and hear it from a personal perspective, I have found that they become less judgemental and a whole lot more compassionate and understanding. The slides about self-harm and suicide especially have generated a lot of healthy discussion. With your permission, I would like to incorporate some of the points in your post and the follow-up comments into the presentation.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 17 2011 at 6:47 am

Hi Neill,

Reaching out to faith groups must be very rewarding and I'm sure helps a lot of people.

Regarding the content here, HealthyPlace owns it, so I can't grant permission for its use. Please contact them directly.

That being said, I do have content I think you would find useful. Please see my personal site (you can contact me directly through that site also): http://natashatracy.com

HealthyPlace contact: http://www.healthyplace.com/component/option,com_rsform/Itemid,99999/fo…

Thanks.

- Natasha

Lisa
says:
July, 17 2011 at 8:55 am

These posts say over and over, it's not about "death". But that was of course my goal when I commited suicide. I say commited, not attempted. I had no intention of failing and the doctors were guarded when I ended up in the hospital. But after 3 days of unconciousness in my home, God intervined to raise me back up. I have since struggled with bitterness that he would not accept me home from this terrible situation and relieve my loved ones of the burdon I had become. I'm only ashamed that I failed. I am left only to turn to Him and attempt to continue in faith to seek His plan for my life. He must have saved it for some reason and thats what I have to hold on to. My anger at failing hasn't subsided when I face the overwhelming pain in my soul. But I look to Him to get through and not to escaping as I did before. I'm left walking in blind faith, trusting my heavenly Father - He has never let me down. I know someday... I will look back and say I'm glad He loved me enough to make me fail at escaping this world.

michele
says:
July, 19 2011 at 6:33 am

" Natasha Tracy says:
July 13, 2011 at 10:39 am
Hi Amanda,

I agree. It’s a tough idea to get across to someone who has not experienced much pain"

It is not fair to assume that the loved one of someone who has attempted suicide has not experienced much pain. I have dealt with a ton of pain in my life (death of a parent as a child, sexual abuse, etc) just in a different way than my loved one who attempted suicide has dealt with their pain. Those who attempt suicide do not have a lock on pain. I know my loved one is in pain when depression rears it's ugly head. I know that they are in pain when they wish to be dead. I know they are in pain when they say they are worthless. It breaks my heart.

I have to agree with pat who posted "Unfortunately, all the love in the world isn’t enough to save someone who does not want to be saved". That is how many of the loved ones of those who attempt/commit suicide feel.

Thanks for the article and the information. It can help those of us who are on the other side of a suicide attempt.

Dr Musli Ferati
says:
July, 20 2011 at 2:17 am

Your article on suicide attempt of loved ones evoked to me the suicide attempt of my old daughter two years ago. It was my gloomiest life experience, because this acrid event was unexpected for me as her loved father. Indeed that act was as reactive evacuation to a provocative verbal calumny of her fellow-worker. Otherwise, my daughter was a calm, precious, silent and friendly person, without any openly interrelationship problem. Thus, the real case of this disastrous act remain for long time unknown for me and for others member of my family. There were many exhaustion accusations to every member of my sorrowful family. Even I am psychiatrist, it was impossible to give any professional verbal helping and support to my suicidal daughter, because she had flat refusal about that. All the time behind the accident I were in low spirit, untalkative and timid toward her. I think this type of dealing with the suicide attempt of my daughter was correct and fruitful. I hope that it is a right approach.

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 21 2011 at 8:24 am

Hi Michele,

My point wasn't those who haven't attempted suicide don't know pain, my point was those that do not know pain, whatever the reason, are hard with which to create an understanding. Certainly, many know pain for many different reasons.

I hope the information does help. Thanks for your comment.

- Natasha

gwen
says:
July, 22 2011 at 8:19 am

am i going straight to hell if i attempt suicide?

Natasha Tracy
says:
July, 22 2011 at 9:14 am

Gwen,

I believe that a suicide attempt is a symptom of an illness. No more, no less.

I recommend you contact a leader for your faith to talk about it.

- Natasha

1bigbadmama
says:
September, 3 2011 at 7:22 am

I recommend telling your friend or loved one I'll be here for you no matter what WE will get through this together!...Myself I felt like I had gone mad...later realized the best friends& loved one would stick around no matter what...

Natasha Tracy
says:
September, 3 2011 at 8:51 am

Hi 1bigbadmama,

Good advice I think. And great that you have people in your life that _will_ stick around no matter what.

- Natasha

sherry graham
says:
October, 7 2011 at 10:54 am

Kate, I am also a burn survivor due to Bipolar Disorder. I feel alone also at times. If you want to email me please do so at sherryg367@att.net. My burn was in 2005 and was almost 80% from my feet to my shoulders. I am doing well now but would love to talk with you about your experience. Peace-Sherry

Chloe
says:
November, 23 2011 at 1:48 pm

I was recently hospitalised following a suicide attempt. Luckily, I had no idea what it would take to kill me and the sleeping pills I took didn't even come close. I no longer want to kill myself now, although I can't say for sure I won't in the future.

What makes battling with my depression even harder is that the people around me now blame me for personally hurting them and treat me differently, making me feel selfish or like an outsider. My best friends of five years, who I was living with, kicked me out of the house and have not spoken to me since. Even the most supportive people - my mother for instance - treat me like some kind of alien, like someone who has to be tiptoed around in case they say something that will trigger another attempt.

Only one person still treats me the same, and I love him for it. Living with my parents again, I now live further away from him than I'd like, but he's the only one around me who realises that right now all I need is to know that someone loves me and will be there after anything. I don't need everyone's undivided attention until they're sure I won't attempt suicide again. All I need is for people to understand that I'm still me, and I can still joke and laugh and be their friend. And yes, I have had my fair share of pain, pain that they can't fix, that there is no quick fix for. But escaping through suicide was an attempt - in the end - to make it easier. To not have to deal with living. Somehow, it feels as though my attempt has made what was already hard even harder, and I have less friends now to help me through. I suppose in a way it has helped me, though - helped me realise who I am and what I want to do now that I have lived through an attempt. and it has helped me realise who my real friends were; not the people who thought was selfish for placing the huge responsibility of my wellbeing on them, but the ones who still love me for who I am and for being their friend.

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