There is much written about coping with life after a suicide and the deep impact this leaves on family members, friends and partners. However, less is written on the impact of an attempted suicide, and how we can be left thrown off balance with raw and unpredictable feelings. When someone we love tries to take their own life, but either fails or were stopped by someone, we can be left feeling disjointed and lost for years.
This article aims to explore the impact of an attempted suicide and discuss how people often react in the wake of such a traumatic event. It also aims to look at how to offer support and how therapy can help.
The impact of an attempted suicide
After hearing that a loved one attempted suicide there is a sense of numbness, as if life is not real, or that it must be happening to someone else. The experience of an attempted suicide is traumatic for all involved and the emotional consequences will be huge with repercussions which can continue for years. There will of course be common themes and feelings associated with attempted suicides, and below I have listed some of these.
It may be common to feel some or all of the feelings listed below due to the overwhelming and shocking nature of suicide that leaves us unsure of how we feel, or the nature of our emotions.
- Intense anger at our loved one.
- Feeling guilty, or that you should have done more to stop what happened.
- Anxiety or fear it happen again, and the next time they will succeed.
- A sense of shame.
- Feeling powerless and helpless.
- Feeling let down, hurt and betrayed.
The shocking nature of an attempted suicide brings forth a wide range of negative, angry and for the most part unhelpful reactions. Even though these are completely normal and understandable given the circumstances, it is important to note that these reactions could have more of a negative impact than a positive one, even if they come from a place of genuine love, concern and care.
- Panicking – Feeling as if events aren’t real, searching desperately for answers or wishing to know what to do.
- Insulting or name-calling – Insulting your loved one or inferring that they are mad or stupid.
- Being critical – ‘That was really stupid of you’.
- Lecturing or preaching – ‘How could you have done such a thing, why didn’t you ask for help, or contact me!’
- Ignoring the issue – ‘If I pretend this hasn’t happened, or isn’t real, then I will not have to deal with it’.
- Punishing – Threatening to cut someone out of your life until they improve, seek help or get better.
- Over dramatising – ‘This is the worst thing that you could have EVER done, it will rip our family apart’.
- Seeking a quick fix – ‘You just need a good night’s sleep and some medicine, then you’ll be right as rain’.
- Making the person feel guilty, ashamed or selfish – ‘I cannot believe you would do such a thing, how did you think that I would feel. Didn’t you consider MY feelings?’.
What do I say?
It might seem difficult to provide support for someone after their attempted suicide and it can feel as though there are no words that will match the sadness of the situation. On top of this, you yourself will be feeling overwhelmed, shocked and emotional.
However, it is possible to approach the subject and both support your loved one, as well as manage the moment yourself. Creating a safe space where your loved one knows that they are cared for, supported and loved will make a huge difference. Asking open-ended questions can help to bring about communication. Below I have listed some ways to begin a conversation about an attempted suicide.
- ‘I am so sorry that you have been feeling so low, but I am so glad that you are still here.’
- ‘I am here for you now, and remember that I am always here if you ever need to talk.’
- I would like to help you, so please tell me how I can best do that. If that means just sitting here, that’s alright too.’
How to offer support
- Make yourself available to listen and let your loved one know they are in a safe space. This enables trust to be re-established between your loved one.
- Try to understand their feelings and perspective before seeking a resolution or solution.
- Assist them in seeking, developing and exploring realistic ways of managing their difficulties.
- Help people to make small changes in the beginning.
- Assist them in assuming as much responsibility for their own well-being as they are capable of managing. This may be difficult because you may not feel able to trust your loved one yet.
How therapy can help
There will no doubt be a wide range of emotions, feelings and thoughts raised in the wake of a suicide, many of these may be upsetting, confusing and overwhelming. Talking therapies can be useful for the friends, family and loved ones of the person who attempted suicide, as well as for the individual themselves.
Therapy provides a safe non-judgemental space to fully explore the suicide and its aftermath, and gain understanding of how you now feel and have been affected. Therapy will of course not be an easy process for anyone, but bringing thoughts, feelings and ideas into the open is much safer than bottling them up and shutting them away.
I have listed some ways in which people can support their loved one in the aftermath of an attempted suicide, and it will be a long process to recovery for all involved, and of course, taking each day as it comes will be crucial. The long lasting impact of a traumatic event such as an attempted suicide may well reside for many years, but through being open and talking about the impact it has had, will allow for healing to eventually take place.