Connection is the First Step
When someone you know or love has attempted suicide, it’s natural to want to help. It’s also natural to have no idea what to do or say. Suicide can feel big and scary, but the ways you can help are often very simple. Validating, caring, and listening can make a huge difference to a suicide attempt survivor. You don’t need to be an expert to help, just someone who’s present and cares.
This page is meant to support you as you support someone in your life who’s survived a suicide attempt.
Support Yourself So You Can Support Them
Your Wellbeing Is the Foundation
One of the most important things you can offer after a friend or loved one’s suicide attempt is your support. Supporting your own wellbeing is an essential component of supporting someone else. A suicide attempt is a significant event for all involved, and it will bring up a range of feelings. Be honest with yourself about how you feel and how you need to care for yourself during this time. While you don’t want to make the attempt about you, it’s important to take the time to check in with yourself. You’ll be most effective when you do.
Ways to Support Yourself:
Movement, nutrition, sleep, pursuing personal interests, and honoring your emotional needs can all help you manage stress and remain grounded as you support someone in your life.
Allow Your Feelings
Give yourself permission to feel whatever the suicide attempt brings up with you so you can process those feelings and make conscious choices about what would be helpful/unhelpful to share.
Learning about suicide, from identifying warning sides and resources to reading stories from other suicide attempt survivors, can give you tangible ways to offer support.
Honor Your Boundaries
Communicate what support you can give and for how long and stay mindful of the overall number of responsibilities on your plate. You can do this by mindfully saying no, delegating tasks, or finding flexible options for getting things done.
Keep Yourself Connected
During difficult times, building a support network and staying connected are valuable steps in taking care of yourself. Your support network could include trusted friends or family members, a mental health professional, or a community of people who have experienced something similar.
As you connect with the people in your life, remember that it’s okay to talk about things that aren’t related to the suicide attempt. Catch up with important people and talk about anything that’s going on, whether that’s your personal goals, a funny movie you saw, or the suicide attempt.
Practice Being Present
After a suicide attempt, it's common to think about what you could have/should have/would have done differently to prevent it or look into the future with uncertainty about whether it will happen again. These are normal responses to significant events that can help us process and learn from our life experiences. However, they can also contribute to feelings of fear, guilt, shame, sadness, and more. It's important to remember that emotional pain is part of the human experience, especially during difficult times. It isn't bad, just painful.
Take care of yourself and build self-awareness by practicing being present. Focus on today, what you know, and what's within your control when you feel overwhelmed. Give yourself the space to breathe and feel whatever comes up.
Give Yourself the Space to Breathe
Don’t Take This On Alone
Suicide is a complex and significant health event. Surviving an attempt doesn’t mean the underlying factors have resolved. Many people are at high risk for attempting again in the period after a suicide attempt. This makes professional mental health care essential to recovery after a suicide attempt. Just as you would support someone in seeking follow-up care after a heart attack, support a suicide attempt survivor in seeking the follow-up care they need.
Counselor tip: As a supporter, you can help direct a suicide attempt survivor to resources, coping strategies, and professional help.
How to Support a Suicide Attempt Survivor
It’s Always the Right Time to Offer Support
Whether a suicide attempt has just happened or someone’s disclosed it to you years later, there are ways you can offer support. In the immediate aftermath and beyond, the main ingredients of support will remain the same: safety, connection, communication, and hope.
For survivors of a suicide attempt, safety is one of the first things to establish. Make sure they are safe, not alone, and connected with mental health care. This is especially true in the time immediately following a suicide attempt when the risk for suicide is still high.
It's Okay to Ask the Question
Suicide attempt survivors can have many reactions to surviving an attempt. Some may feel relieved to be alive and others may continue to experience suicidal thoughts, plans, or intent. If you’re ever unsure about someone’s safety, ask: “Are you thinking about suicide? Do you have a plan?”
Check In on Their Safety Plan
Ask if they have a safety plan. If they do, ask if they'd be comfortable sharing it with you or telling you a bit about it. If they don’t have a safety plan, ask if you can help them make one. Writing down important phone numbers and a list of distractions is a great place to start. If difficult emotions or challenging situations arise, reference their safety plan and ask how you can support them in using it.
Give Your Presence
You Don't Need the Perfect Thing to Say
When someone survives a suicide attempt, what they need most is your care. You don’t need to know exactly what to say or understand, you just need to be there with open ears and an open heart. Let them know you’re glad they’re still here, that you care, and that you want to support them.
Practice Open Communication
Use the Word Suicide
It's okay to talk about suicide, before or after an attempt. Talking about suicide thoughtfully is one way to keep the lines of communication open and make it safe to talk about the attempt.
Keep Checking In
Check in, even when it things feel “back to normal.” The questions you ask and the focus of checking in may change, but it’s always a good idea to see how the people we care about are doing.
Let Them Know You're Ready to Listen
Communicate to the person you’re supporting that you care about them and are open to hearing their story if, when, and however they may wish to share it.
Talk About Safety
Respect the privacy of the person you’re supporting while also clearly communicating any concerns you have about their safety and wellbeing. Let them know who you will contact if you're concerned about their safety.