Resources for Suicide-Attempt Survivors and Their Loved Ones
Suicide attempts have far-reaching repercussions for survivors – and for their families. Post-suicide attempt, survivors and their families may be overwhelmed by conflicting emotions and difficult questions.
For example, a survivor may wake up relieved – or confused or disappointed or embarrassed or overwhelmed. The myriad of emotions can be overwhelming. They may wonder: How did I get to a place where suicide felt like my only option? What prevented me from dying? How do I face my loved ones?
The survivor’s loved ones may also feel a range of conflicting emotions: Shock. Denial. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Anxiety. Betrayal. They also may have questions: Why didn’t I see this coming? What would lead my loved one to do something so drastic? How dare they try to destroy our family?
It is necessary to acknowledge your feelings and questions after suffering the trauma of a suicide attempt. While it takes time to process feelings, answer questions, and travel down the road to recovery, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While it takes time to get from here to there, multiple resources are available to support both survivors and their families on this journey.
Resources for survivors
As a survivor, you may feel exhausted at the start of your recovery journey. This is a normal reaction to the traumatic event. It can be overwhelming to face the realization that returning to a regular life will present many internal and external challenges.
While everyone’s process is different, creating a support system for your recovery can be helpful to all survivors.
“Whether you are thinking about suicide now or in the recent past, or you made a suicide attempt last night or several years ago, we understand that the pain you have felt is deep, your emotions may still feel raw, and that your feelings about wanting to end your life are (or were) complicated,” according to the LifeLine for Attempt Survivors. “Taking care of yourself is an important part of your recovery.”
Taking care of yourself
Finding ways to cope with the fallout of your suicide attempt and the emotional pain that may have driven that attempt is not a simple process. Healing yourself physically and emotionally takes time but is both possible and likely, if you focus attention on taking care of yourself.
“Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date,” reports an article on the Harvard School of Public Health’s website. “This relatively good long-term survival rate is consistent with the observation that suicidal crises are often short-lived, even if there may be underlying, more chronic risk factors present that give rise to these crises.”
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline organization suggests four accessible ways to help yourself after a suicide attempt:
- “Find an activity you enjoy:” The key is that “your self-care activities can be anything that makes you feel good about yourself,” according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- “Talk to someone:” You can talk about your feelings in support groups, on crisis lines, with a therapist, and with trusted friends and families. It is up to you how much you share with others. At first, it may be helpful just to be among others who have had similar experiences because it can help you know that you are not alone. “When you’re ready,” according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), “let [those you trust] know what happened and that you want them to help you stay safe.”
- “Make a safety plan:” Create a step-by-step, written plan that can lead you out of crisis if you begin to feel suicidal. According to a guide provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), you should develop this plan with either a doctor or therapist and it can include a list of things that trigger suicidal thoughts or feelings in you, things that can help you cope with your triggers, when to seek additional treatment and contact information for the people in your life who can help you, including your doctor, therapist, trusted friend or family member. An article on GoodTherapy.org also suggests including “a list of steps to keep yourself safe if you are in crisis. For example, you might plan how you could avoid or get rid of items in your house that you could harm yourself with.”
- “Find a counselor:” A good therapist can help you develop a safety plan, and according to AFSP, they also can help you to put your experience in perspective and help you manage life stressors.
Resources that can help you recover
The following webpages offer support to people who have attempted suicide:
- With Help Comes Hope (part of the Lifeline for Attempt Survivors): This webpage provides information to “help you remain safe and find hope, whether your difficult period is now or in the future.” The Lifeline for Attempt Survivors site includes stories from attempt survivors, self-care tips, and a support community.
- After an Attempt (provided by AFSP): This webpage provides information to guide you through such things as what to do in the days and weeks following an attempt, how to better understand your own actions, how to interact with friends and family, creating a safety plan, and ways you can support your own recovery. AFSP also offers ways to connect with communities that have people who have faced some of the same struggles you’ve faced.
- After an Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Yourself After Your Treatment in the Emergency Department (Provided by SAMHSA): This brochure provides information “to help you begin to work through the challenges that led you to attempt to take your life. It offers information about moving ahead after your treatment in the emergency department and provides resources for more information about suicide and mental illness.”
SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Locator (link here) helps survivors find therapists and other treatment options.
Additionally, an article in USA Today reported on several resources that can help you free of charge:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – support via a call line at 800-273-TALK (8255) as well as online chat
- Crisis Text Line – confidential support via text message by texting HOME to 741741
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – a support groups
- Now Matters Now – personal stories
- Live Through This – portraits and stories of suicide survivors
Resources for loved ones of suicide-attempt survivors
You may feel as though you have experienced a trauma after learning of a loved one’s suicide attempt. Due to this, it is essential that you seek support and take care of yourself, even if all you can think about is how you can help your loved one.
“When someone you love attempts to take their life, it can evoke a range of strong emotions,” according to the AFSP. “During their crisis, your loved one may have perceived themselves as being completely alone, or a burden on you and the others who love them.”
Accordingly, processing your own emotions is important. The AFSP cautions that this is a journey, not a destination and healing will take time. Seeking professional support for your own thoughts, feelings, and mental health may help.
At the same time, your loved one needs support. One way you can provide support is by spending time with them.
“One of the most powerful gifts you can provide at this time is your presence,” according to the AFSP. “Even when you don’t know what to say, just be there with them. For the first few weeks, they need you very close.”
Further, you may need to understand that they may want to talk about difficult topics.
The Lifeline for Attempt Survivor’s website shared some advice from survivors:
- “I want to talk about my pain.” According to Shelby: “I wished I could talk to my parents about what I was going through, but I was scared they would get mad at me. … But I still needed to talk about my pain, even if they didn’t know how to help.”
- “Please don’t make me feel guilty.” According to Ashley: “The guilt that people put on me after my attempts didn’t help. They would say things like, ‘Don’t you know what it would have done to me if you had died?’ That just made me depressed all over again.”
- “Please don’t leave me alone.” According to Stormi: “No matter how hard I fight to get away, push others far from me, just don’t let me be alone. Being alone equals time. Time to think, time to dwell, time to act.”
- “Tell me you love me.” According to Kimberly: “I needed help and love and support. I needed them to tell me that they loved me and that I was okay as a person, that I meant something to them and that I had value and worth.”
Resources for helping loved ones recover
SAMHSA provides several free resources via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations Store can be ordered or downloaded. Some of the materials that may be helpful to the family members of a suicide attempt survivor are linked below:
- A Journey toward Health and Hope: Your Handbook for Recovery after a Suicide Attempt.
- Stories of Hope and Recovery: A Video Guide for Suicide Attempt Survivors.
- Helping Your Loved One Who is Suicidal: A Guide for Family and Friends
- A Guide for Taking Care of Yourself after Your Treatment in the Emergency Department (Spanish version)
- A Guide for Medical Providers in the Emergency Department: Taking Care of Suicide Attempt Survivors
“Because of our taboos around suicide, we’re not sure what to say and so quite often we say nothing,” says JD Schramm in his TED talk about surviving a suicide attempt. “If you are someone who has contemplated or attempted suicide, or you know somebody who has, talk about it; get help. It’s a conversation worth having and an idea worth spreading.”
If you’d like to learn more about why people attempt suicide and how to help those impacted by suicide, read these GeneSight blog posts:
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.