One of the most difficult challenges to face as a friend or family member of a loved one who has attempted suicide is offering help and support after the attempt. It is quite common to experience a range of emotions and reactions after learning that someone you love has attempted suicide.
You may feel shock or denial or even blame yourself for the attempt, wishing you would have done more to identify the problem or prevent it. It is important to remember that the suicide attempt is not your fault. It also is important to support your loved one after the suicide attempt. If you’re unsure of how to help a loved one after a suicide attempt, you can rely on our suggestions for being supportive of your loved one.
Avoid negative or unhelpful reactions
While you may be angry or confused about your loved one’s suicide attempt, you must keep in mind that the time following the attempt is a delicate one. You need to avoid negative or unhelpful reactions that could trigger anger or withdrawal from your loved one. We have listed some of the reactions to avoid here:
- Don’t say, “I know how you feel.”
- Don’t ask, “Why didn’t you get help sooner?”
- Avoid name calling
- Avoid criticizing
- Do not ignore the attempt
- Do not avoid the person
- Do not appear angry or offended
- Do not make the person feel guilty or selfish
Keep in mind that the person is at an increased risk for dying by suicide
While only 10% of people who attempt suicide go on to complete and die by suicide, 80% of people who die by suicide have made a previous attempt. This means that your loved one who attempted suicide is at an increased risk for dying by suicide, and the first six months after the attempt are critical for your loved one. In fact, the first year brings an elevated risk to your loved one.
There is also a direct correlation between people who die by suicide and mental illness. If your loved one was experiencing symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, or an eating disorder, it is important to discuss that with a medical professional so that your loved one’s treatment is appropriate. Being honest with medical providers, therapists, and others is one of the best things you can do to help your loved one after a suicide attempt, especially because of the increased risk of death by suicide.
Let your loved one know that you still care
While it may be difficult to talk to your loved one following his suicide attempt, it is better to talk to him than to avoid him. Letting your loved one know that you still care is critical to his recovery. You may just sit with him and let him begin the conversation.
Or, you may want to make a short, supportive statement, such as, “I’m glad you’re okay. You don’t need to say anything, but I want you to know that I am here and will talk when you are ready. I want to help you get through this.” You do not need to have all of the answers or say all of the right things, but you do need to offer your love and support and then commit to working through it together.
Understand that the suicide attempt resulted from pain
People who attempt suicide do so because they are in pain and want to escape it. After a suicide attempt, the shame and guilt your loved one feels will add to her pain. That’s why it is so important to put your loved one’s feelings first.
You may feel angry or confused or betrayed, but your loved one’s feelings, and the reason for her attempt, are more important immediately following the suicide attempt. That’s why one of the best ways you can support a loved one who has attempted suicide is to not ask questions or react in an angry or hurt manner.
After a loved one attempts suicide, you need to be as supportive, loving, and understanding as possible. You need to commit to helping your loved one recover. You also should get support for yourself and rely on your friends and family as well as medical professionals to help you through your feelings as you help your loved one recover.
Finally, know that there will be a time to talk about the suicide attempt with your loved one, and that there are healthy ways to go about it, often under the guidance of a therapist or medical professional.
Image via Flickr by Instant Vantage