Hearing that your boyfriend / friend / sister / husband / son / parent / relative / co-worker tried to end their life can be among the most distressing news that anyone can hear.
After hearing about the suicide attempt, chances are you’re feeling shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, or a whole range of other strong emotions.
You’ll probably also have many questions about how to help someone who is suicidal. How should I respond? What should I do next? What should I say?
Here are five important steps you can take during this difficult time.
1) What should I do next?
How do I help someone who is suicidal? One of the most important things you can do is to be there to support the person who tried to end their life. However, it’s important to recognise and understand that you are probably experiencing a range of intense emotions as well.
A person in your situation may experience a wide spectrum of feelings. These reactions may range from anger, shame and guilt, or they may manifest as a desire to avoid or minimise the seriousness of the situation. Some people may even try to distance or cut themselves off from the person.
One good way to cope with the initial onset of strong feelings is to acknowledge that it is normal to feel shocked or overwhelmed. Instead of suppressing or trying to ignore negative thoughts, acknowledge that yes, they are upsetting, and the situation is distressing.
Acknowledging what has occurred and how it affects your feelings places you in a better position to stay in control of your thoughts and actions. Not only does this help you cope better in the present moment — it also makes it easier for you to support the person who recently made the suicide attempt.
2) What should I say and do?
“What should I say?” That’s the most common question that people have when faced with the confronting situation of not being sure about how to talk to someone who is suicidal.
It is normal to feel unsure about what to say and to have doubts about what to do next. Again, the key thing is to help and support as best as you can.
One way in which you can do this is by initiating the conversation in a ‘safe’ or non-confrontational space. This is a location where the person who tried to end their life feels accepted, understood and supported. Showing someone that you care and that you are there to listen is a great way to support them.
Here are some things you can say to start the conversation.
- “I am so sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling that way. I’m very glad you’re still here with us.”
- “You can reach out to me at any time. I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
- “I’m here to help you. What can I do to support you?”
3) What shouldn’t I say or do?
Once you’ve reached out to someone who was feeling suicidal, the conversation may shift to what actually occurred. As with reaching out in the first instance, you may be experiencing strong or even conflicting emotions.
It is important to keep this in mind and not to ‘rush’ into solutions. Instead, focus on listening so as to understand the person’s emotional outlook and motivation.
It is vital that you do not get ‘carried away’ or react hastily to strong feelings. Don’t judge or shame (“how could you do this to me?”), lecture or preach (“you’re a terrible person for doing this”), condescend or criticise (“you’re stupid and selfish”), or accuse (“you’re just doing it for the attention”).
Instead, ask open-ended questions and reassure the person that you are there to support them. However, remember that you are not stepping in as a professional counsellor or psychologist — so if you find the discussion is heading into territory that you’re not equipped to deal with, encourage the person to contact SuicideLine Victoria. From there they can discuss their worries or concerns with a counsellor who is professionally trained to deal with these issues. You can even offer to join them on the call.
4) Should I tell anyone?
Another very common question asked by people affected by another’s suicide attempt is “should I tell anyone?”
Even today, the topic of suicide can often carry with it a stigma. This means you may be hesitant to discuss the person’s suicide attempt with others. Being the only person who knows can place you under enormous pressure. If you believe the person is a risk to themselves or others, contact a professional, such as a SuicideLine Victoria counsellor, for some expert advice.
When it comes to actual discussion with other people about the suicide attempt, consider who you tell and how much information you reveal. One good way to go about this is to think about or prepare something in advance. This could be as simple as some dot points for when you’re on the phone, or a practised verbal response. For example, if you’re asked how the other person is going, you could respond with “it’s a tough time right now, but he/she is getting support and we’re working through it.”
5) Should I think of myself?
Yes. It is vital that you consider your needs. An attempted suicide can be an incredibly stressful time and you may feel those raw emotions for some time.
It is normal for such an event to feel draining. Although you are providing support, ensure you also get your own support. If it’s appropriate, talk it out with trusted friends or family and let them know how it makes you feel.
If you are struggling then consider contacting SuicideLine Victoria. As mentioned previously, you will speak to a professional counsellor who is trained to help people who are affected by suicide cope — and that includes someone in your situation.
If you are struggling and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251.
If it is an emergency, call 000.