The suicide attempt of any individual creates an unsettling ripple effect on the lives of those close to him or her. Fortunately, he or she failed in the attempt, but in the mind of the suicidal individual, this failure only exacerbates problematic feelings of depression, incompetence, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, and worthlessness. You may feel overwhelmed and want to dissociate from the problem, or you may feel angry, or you may worry about a subsequent attempt by the individual. You may want to panic, criticize, or lecture the individual. None of these reactions will help the situation, however. The best thing you can do is show the suicidal individual understanding and that he or she has your moral support by being thoughtful, caring, kind toward your friend or loved one, and by handling the situation very delicately.
If you’re like most people close to someone who has attempted suicide, you may not know how to be supportive because you probably don’t know exactly what to say. When a friend or loved one attempts suicide your own emotional state may also be impeding you from knowing how to help.
Don’t be afraid, and don’t press the individual to answer questions. Making yourself available, gently asking open-ended questions, and actively listening to the responses can help keep communication lines open. Be enthusiastic and offer hope. You can create a “safe space” for the individual so that he or she feels understood, listened to, supported, and comfortable talking about any emotions being experienced.
The tone you use to help facilitate a dialogue should be reassuring to your friend or loved one should be reinforced by statements that help validate his or her inherent worth, the validity of his or her emotions and experiences, and the fact that you are available to listen. Some suggestions for what to say to help break the ice include:
- You’re not alone in this. I hope you’ll talk to me whenever you feel the need to. Tell me what I can do to help. We can get through this. I believe in you.
- Your feelings are valid and they are OK. You don’t have to feel guilty about anything you have felt or are feeling.
- You’re important to me. You matter.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your feelings.
- I’m sorry to hear you’ve been feeling so powerless and overwhelmed. I’m so grateful that you’re still with us.
Another show of support for your friend or loved one who has attempted suicide is to do everything you can to help keep him or her safe. Know ahead of time whom you can contact (trusted counselor, clergy member, or family member) for help if a situation with the suicidal individual begins to go south and you fear for his or her safety. Another way to show support is by gathering resources for him or her. There are several support hotlines available for someone who is feeling suicidal, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) and the National Hopeline Network (1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)).
The most important thing you can remember is not to feel selfish about setting healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself. You can’t “save” or protect anyone all alone. Help create a support network of friends and/or family members that are willing to make themselves available for your friend or loved one to talk to and confide in.
The thought process and emotional turmoil that lead to a suicide attempt is a long and complicated one, and you should give your friend or loved one the needed time to heal. Be patient with the process. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts for helping the individual after the attempted suicide. Take things slowly and in small steps. The individual needs time to work through and process any emotions, and this is perfectly normal. Just don’t downplay, minimize, or oversimplify what your friend or loved one is going through.
Your loved one can bounce back given time and space. Slowly and surely.
Having trouble starting a hard conversation after a friend or loved one attempts suicide? If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about support for someone who may be suicidal or feelings of being overwhelmed, we’d like to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.