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Suicide attempt survivors

{ Supporting a loved one who has attempted suicide }

I recently received this question in my inbox:

How does one support a loved one or friend who has survived a suicide attempt?

And I thought to myself: Wow, what a difficult thing to manage; trying to know the right thing to say or do when someone close to you has tried to take their own life. I wondered how it must feel to be the one who would have been left behind and how that can impact a person. I thought about how tricky it is to navigate the relationship after, the relationship itself having suffered an injury such as this. Because a suicide attempt does wound relationships and it does deeply affect others around that person.

I realised that, as a therapist, I have often found myself working with the individual who has attempted suicide rather than being in a position where I am supporting the people around that person. So who does support the people around? The reality is, often the people surrounding that individual are not adequately supported. In essence, they have actually been through a traumatic experience themselves and they will have their own emotions to process around it. They will most probably need their own counsel and support around the trauma.

So how could one begin to support their loved one after the event of attempted suicide?

(This assumes that the person who attempted suicide is already receiving support. If that is not the case, this is the number one priority. Don’t keep the situation to yourself. You will need to tell a friend, parent, teacher, trusted colleague or professional and assist them with getting support).

1) Make sure you have adequate support yourself so that you can have the capacity to support and care for that person. It's difficult to be available to support someone if you have unprocessed feelings around their actions and what their actions may have meant for you and your relationship with them. Seeing a therapist, even if it's for a few sessions will help you understand and gather your thoughts around this and free you up to be able to give better support.

2) What ever you are feeling is okay. It doesn't mean that you should share all  those feelings with that person but you are entitled to your own emotions around this too.

3) Do not try to tell the person that they were silly to do such a thing and emphasize how great their life is because they will feel totally alone and misunderstand.

4) Do ask what you can do to help, if anything. Ask them, 'what can I do for you?' and 'how can I be there for you?'

5) Talk less and listen more, what you have to say is not as important as them feeling heard and understood. Don’t interrupt while they’re opening up to you and avoid coming across as judgmental. Reassure the person that they’re safe and being cared for.

6) You can express how you felt about it but don't make it all about you. It's important that they know you are there for them and that they feel they have the space to share. Just listen, without imposing your opinion.

7) When you do talk, tell them you love them and that they deserve to receive support. That they shouldn't have to feel this way and that things can get better.

8) Remind them of the good times you've had together and tell them about the future memories you would like to make with them.

Many people who attempt suicide are trying to eliminate pain and suffering that they have been carrying with them; they want the suffering to end and death seems like the only viable option. What they often fail to recognise is that: if they are no longer living they will not be able to experience relief of that pain, and that if they choose to stay alive then they may have the opportunity to feel relief; to feel less pain and suffering and even to feel joy.

If you are still feeling unsure or have questions around this topic please don't hesitate to reach out and let me know.

If you are suffering with suicidal thoughts and urges please contact support. Seeking help to deal with suicidal feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a proactive step towards turning your life around, so contact someone to give you the help you need:

Suicide Crisis

Helpline: 0800 12 13 14


Helpline: 0800 567 567

SMS: 31393

Lifeline SA

Helpline: 0861 322 322

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