How To Talk To Someone After An Attempt

Often people report that they find it difficult to support someone who has attempted suicide because they feel they don’t know what to say. It can be extremely difficult to find the right words when you’re feeling devastated, overwhelmed, upset, or even confused yourself. Though you may not know exactly what to say, try to create an environment where the person feels accepted, supported, safe and understood. Letting the person know you support them, and asking open-ended questions, can help to open the lines of communication.

Here are some ideas on how to get the conversation started:
  • I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so awful. I’m so glad you’re still here.
  • I’m here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to.
  • I want to help you. What can I do to support you?

How To Support Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

  • Before anything else, you want to ensure that your loved one is safe. It would be advisable to remove possible means to suicide, including drugs and alcohol, to keep the person safe.

  • Remember that you do not have to fill the role of counselor, psychiatrist, or doctor yourself. Encourage your loved one to utilize the professional support available to them.  Enlist the help of others and make sure you get family and friends to assist you to support the person.

  • Learn about what to say and not to say to someone after a suicide attempt. Also, keep in mind that these are just some examples and everyone’s needs and reactions may be different so adjust your language according to your loved one. 

    For example, say: 

    • I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.
    • I am always just a phone call away.
    • We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.
    • I am usually up early or late. If you need anything I am always here for you.
    • How can I be here for you?
    • Say nothing and just be there to listen. 

Avoid saying:

    • Why did you do this?
    • Your life is so precious.
    • Everything in your life is great.
    • People have it worse than you.
    • Do you have any idea of how sad we would be if you were gone? 
  • Be available and let the person know you will listen. It is vital to create a safe space for the person to talk – this helps build or re-establish trust between you and the person you are concerned about.  Know that asking someone directly about suicide does not trigger suicidal ideation or action, it is often the most effective way to open up constructive dialogue. 

  • Support the person in exploring and developing realistic plans and solutions to deal with their emotional pain. In order to let go of suicide as a solution, they will need to see real changes in their life. It is usually a case of making small steps in the beginning, as the person's difficulties haven't been created overnight. Even helping them start with small tasks can be important such as delivering a package or cleaning out a closet.

  • Work with your friend, an adult, and a mental health professional on a safety plan in the event that your friend starts to feel suicidal again. Having a concrete plan in place may help both of you feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future suicidal thoughts.

  • Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicidal thoughts.

If you are in college and a friend attempts suicide or has thoughts of harming themselves or others, reach out to your school’s counseling service and get help from confidential resources.

Being far away from family in college can feel like you have to fill the parent role for your friend. Remember that there are several resources at school and in the community that will support you and your friend.

You may want to reach out to your friend’s family. Use common sense when reaching out to others.

tips for telling your friends parents 

  • Sometimes, people have a hard time coming to terms-- parents might want to blame it on alcohol or drugs and say that “it is just because they are drinking”.

  • You might send them resources that they can inform themselves with such as sharing this page with them.

  • You can also let your friend’s family know that you are here for your friend and keep them updated on the steps you have taken such as reaching out to the school’s counseling services etc.

Telling Other People About The Suicide Attempt

Unfortunately, there is still stigma surrounding suicide. This may make it difficult to talk about your loved one’s suicide attempt, as you may fear that you or they will be judged or criticized. 

It is important to remember that it is up to you who you choose to tell about the situation, and how much you reveal to them. You may find it helpful to prepare something to say when asked about your loved one’s suicide attempt, such as a simple: ‘yes, it’s a difficult time for us, but we’re getting him/her the support s/he needs.’ 

Speaking to people who have also been in similar situations, such as through a carers’ support group, may offer you a source of non-judgemental support and understanding. 

Looking After Yourself

Supporting someone who has attempted suicide can be emotionally draining, stressful and exhausting. It is impossible to watch over someone 24/7. It is vital that you look after yourself and get the support you need.

This is not something you need to deal with alone. Ensure you have adequate support systems in place for yourself. Identify trusted family members or friends that you can talk to, or join a local support group. If you are finding it difficult to deal with the strain of the situation, you may also wish to consider seeking counseling or other professional support for yourself.

Reviewed by: Dr. Yanki Yazgan, MD April 2020

Source: Suicideline AU