If you have a friend or loved one who has attempted suicide, you may be unsure how to best offer support going forward. While it may seem like the best course of action is to ignore the suicide attempt, friends and family often better help a loved one when they open up dialogue about the event and what led to it.
When someone attempts to commit suicide, he or she is usually suffering from extreme pain—either physical or emotional. Instead of looking for attention, most suicidal individuals are only seeking to remove themselves from a situation over which they feel no control. This situation could be a number of things, including chronic depression, schizophrenia, chronic illness, drug and alcohol dependency or a sudden life event.
When a suicide attempt is not fully carried out, your friend or family member may feel embarrassed and will most likely expect some sort of retribution from those he or she cares about. Instead of punishing your loved one with words of judgment, start a conversation asking what circumstances led to the event, always emphasizing empathy.
During your conversations, avoid minimizing what your friend or loved one is experiencing. Even statements that may seem positive could cause alienation. These statements include, “Everything happens for a reason,” and “Everything will be better soon.” Statements like these tell the individual that his or her experiences and feelings aren’t valid. While the statements come from a good place, they end up being placations that don’t address the complexity of everyday life. Instead, you can offer encouragement by letting your loved one know that you’re there to offer support.
If someone who has once attempted suicide exhibits certain signs that lead you to believe he or she will attempt it again, it’s always a good idea to talk about it directly instead of avoiding the situation. Signs include withdrawing from friends and family, making a will, saying goodbye in a way that seems final and exhibiting erratic behavior. While it may seem scary to discuss your concerns with the person in question, being open is generally more helpful than staying quiet. Ask your friend or family member if there is anything upsetting him or her and what you can do to help. Often, knowing that someone genuinely cares will help someone who is considering suicide rethink his or her decision.
It’s not always possible to protect someone from suicide. If you’ve lost a loved one, you will probably experience a level of survivor’s guilt. While ultimately suicide is a personal decision and no one can be held responsible, the best way to help those you love is to be aware of how to best support them during trying times.
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