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.
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.
Tracy, N. (2011, July 11). For Loved Ones, After a Suicide Attempt, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/07/for-loved-ones-after-a-suicide-attempt
Author: Natasha Tracy
I have just experienced three appointments with my counselor that are devastating. I am bi-polar since 28 and am now 53. I have had two suicide attempts over the years. One at 27 and one at 34. And regardless of my mom saying I didn't mean it believe me I did. I have done well for years now. Until the following occurred.
My counselor has always been great until the last three visits. He must have taken some stupid course on tough loving bi-polar people. All I know is he is pushing me to get out, go to church, go shopping and a million other things that make me sick every time I try them.
I don't need to do things that are bad for me. I am quite productive at home. I have farm animals, I babysit grand-kids, I am an artist and I AM HOME-BOUND. I am stable and happy as long as I keep my life like that but he is determined to bully me into being someone I am not.
I have decided that this is about making him look good. He wants me to be normal. Yeah, good luck with that one. There cannot be any other reason he wants to change what was working. It has to be a reflection on him in his mind. It's as if he thinks he can cure me or something. And when I do not do these things that make me worse he raises his voice and bullies me. Which also tells me that he thinks I am stupid. Those tactics from my family is what made me try to kill myself the other two times.
All I want is love. That's it. Just to be loved. And I am lovable and do not disrupt, yell or act out and never had. No. I turn it all in on myself because no one cared when I became sick. My deeply religious family told me I was possessed by demons if that gives ya'll a clue about their "tough love."
I recognize the falseness of tough love. It isn't nor has it ever been love. It is hate. It hurts and it makes bi-polars worse. I am in the process of trying to figure out if I should go to another clinic now because this is going to really make me sick.
After all these years of being fairly stable he is messing with my head now. I hate this and refuse to go along with it. I plan on telling him this in a gentle way next visit and if he continues to push me into being something I am not then it means he truly never cared at all. He doesn't seem to get that bullying is what made me try suicide before. I am at a loss and very disappointed after over 20 years at this clinic. I guess nothing stays the same.
My point to all this is, if you bully a bi-polar then don't complain when they try to kill them shelves. Who the hell do you think you are to kick someone when they are either down or doing well? How dare he and anyone who could be so cruel. What bi-polars deal with is awful and if you don't know believe me, you don't want to know.
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: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/
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
Thank you for this.
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.
This is a wonderful and sensitive article on this very important topic. Thanks.
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: http://www.mybacktothewall.com/index.html
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: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/ )
I hope that helps.
- Natasha Tracy
(Full disclosure - I do work with the author but do not benefit from book sales.)
I just read your article. I suspect that my boyfriend may have tried to, wow this is hard to say, well.. escape from his pain indefinitely. He has had many operations for an injury which he sustained serving overseas. I came home to find him in a very drugged state and found he had taken almost 10 times the dose of his pain medication along with a packet of painkillers. I took him to the hospital with help from my family and he stayed the night but thank god recovered okay. He denies that he tried to kill himself and didn't mention any of his problems (that I have seen and experienced e.g. nightmares) that I think led up to this. Regardless of whether or not he did attempt anything, I'm just looking for any advice on the situation. Before reading this article, I had already told him how upset, hurt and scared I was about what he did. He's staying with his parents at the moment who want to keep an eye on him but we have been messaging each other and I tell him that I love him.
Again, any advice or thoughts from someone who's been in a similar situation and how they've handled it would be appreciated.
It sounds like you're in a really tough spot. Are you able to get any of your friends or family to read this article? I've been told it helps some people.
Try to do what's best for you right now. Taking care of you is what matters and that means you likely can't take care of anyone else. Good on you for recognizing that. Your boundaries are important. Self-care matters especially now.
I wish you the best and send positive thoughts to you.
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.
Good advice I think. And great that you have people in your life that _will_ stick around no matter what.
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.
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.
July 13, 2011 at 10:39 am
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.
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/formId,1/
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.
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 . . .”
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.
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...
"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.
"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.
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!
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.
You may find it interesting. Thanks, Terry Garahan