If you think it can be challenging to support someone who has attempted suicide, you’re not alone. Often, people don’t know what to do or say and finding the right words can be difficult. It can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s important to create a “safe zone” where the person you are supporting can feel loved, accepted, cared about, and understood. You can do this by letting the person know directly that you are there to support them, and by asking open-ended questions that keep communication open.
Here are a few ways you can support someone who has attempted suicide:
- Be available and listen, don’t lecture. It is important to create the “safe zone” for the person to talk and express their feelings. Establishing the safe zone will help them create trust between the two of you. If you don’t know what to say or where to start, you can try:
- I’m sorry you haven’t been feeling well, but I’m so glad you’re still here.
- I’m here for you and I want you to know that you can always talk to me if you need to.
- I want to help you. What can I do to help support you?
- Try to understand the person’s perspective and feelings before trying to find a solution. There is no one-size-fits all solution. A mental health counselor can help and be supportive of both you and the person.
- If you live with or have some responsibility for the person’s living conditions, it might be advisable to remove items that may be a threat to the person, including drugs and alcohol. Safety is most important.
- Help support the person in finding realistic goals and solutions to begin to move forward and handle mental health crises in the future. The person may need to make small changes in the beginning in order to see lasting change in their life and future mental health. Remember, their issues didn’t just develop overnight.
- Helping a suicide survivor is a commitment for you emotionally as well. You may not feel you can trust them for some time. However, it’s vital to help them take on as much responsibility for their own life as they are currently capable of. This might be as simple as helping them keep a routine or attending counseling sessions.
- It’s important that you get support as well. Find help from trusted friends and family members so you are not completely overwhelmed or burdened. Don’t try and fill the role of a qualified mental health professional. Use the professional support that is available to you.
- If you are close to the individual, you may be asked to write a safety plan. A safety plan will detail the steps the person should take if they feel suicidal again. By having a plan in place, you and the person can feel better prepared and more in control of the situation if problems occur again. A mental health professional can help you create your safety plan.
There is still stigma surrounding suicide. It can be difficult to talk about the suicide attempt, especially if you worry about being seen as judgemental or critical. You may want to prepare something to say or rehearse something in your head prior to having the first conversation. It’s also important to consider what you’ll share with others when asked. You might find a support group or speaking to a mental health professional yourself incredibly helpful.
It’s important to look after yourself as well. Supporting someone who has attempted suicide can be stressful and emotionally difficult. It is not possible to monitor someone 24/7, so enlist help and find support if you need it.
If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.