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, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/07/for-loved-ones-after-a-suicide-attempt
Author: Natasha Tracy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Such a great comment. Thanks for contributing. I'm going to share it on Facebook.
"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.
I wish your friend a full recovery and a peaceful, rich life.
"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.
I agree. It's a tough idea to get across to someone who has not experienced much pain.
You're lucky to have such supports, for sure. It would be great if we all had those.
so so true, but almost impossible for those who have not been there to really understand x