How to cope with a child’s suicide

How to cope with a child's suicide

Sept. 20, 2019- For 20 years, I have been healing from the loss of my son to suicide. I learned to survive one day at a time. I’ve put this list together, from one parent to another, in the hope that it will be of some help to other parents who are just starting this journey. You will survive.

  1. You are not alone. You may think that as a parent whose child took his or her life, you are on another planet, all by yourself: but there are many parents walking the same road. You don’t yet know them. Find an AFSP chapter in your community, make use of the support they offer, and connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many people enduring the same pain as you. We all understand.
  2. Get the help you need. After my son died, I found a therapist for my surviving son, as well as a grief counselor for myself. My husband and I continued to see our couple’s counselor. I eventually took anti-depressant meds. There is no shame in getting help. If you don’t have the energy to do it yourself, have a close friend find the appropriate therapist or support group for you. Speaking of which…
  3. Let your friends provide support in whatever ways you or they can think of. If I had a doctor’s appointment, I asked a friend to call in advance to tell the doctor what had happened, because I couldn’t bear the thought of answering the typical question, “So did anything important happen this year?” As another example, I’m a lawyer, and eventually after my son’s death, I had to appear in court for clients. I took a friend with me for support each time. Everyone is different. Your friends want to help. Let them be there for you.
  4. When you’re ready, re-connect with your regular routines. Before my son died, my daily routine included going to the gym. As emotionally shattered as I was, I continued to go. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, it helped. Figure out what you liked to do before your child died. Knitting, reading, cooking, cross word puzzles, yoga, reality TV, painting. Everyone has their own thing. It will help you maintain your sanity.
  5. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. You have a “pass.” If you are invited somewhere, and don’t want to go, you can say something like, “I’m not up to it, but please keep asking. Eventually I will accept your invitation.”
  6. When you go back to work, make sure you have a safe place to hide when you have a meltdown. Let those close to you know it will probably happen, and have them protect you as much as possible.
  7. It’s okay to smile and laugh. You are miserable enough. You don’t have to prove, or show, how sad you are to anyone.
  8. Plan ahead for holidays, or have several alternate plans, depending on how you’re feeling. Holidays can bring up a lot of complicated feelings after a loss. See how you feel that day, and do whatever feels right to you then.
  9. Try not to make any big decisions for at least a year. Don’t move out of your home. Don’t clean up your child’s room or their belongings until you are ready.
  10. Try your best not to spend a lot of time agonizing over the question of, “Why?” There is probably no good way to protect yourself from doing this. But try to keep in mind that no matter how long you think about the “why,” you may come up with possibilities, but never a conclusion.
  11. Know that you will always be your child’s mom or dad. You might wonder, “If I lost my only child, am I still a mother or father?” You raised your child, and can keep your child’s memory alive in meaningful ways, when you are ready. My son’s picture is on a memorial quilt. You can share happy memories of your child with others. Some people find that giving their child’s friends a special item of theirs is meaningful. Many raise awareness and funds through Out of the Darkness Walk teams, or by creating their own events in honor of the people they’ve lost. Whatever feels right to you.
  12. Many people feel guilty after the loss of a loved one to suicide. You might think, “I should have done more, or done things differently.” Our children did not come with instructions. Know you did the best you could. We would give our own lives to have our children back. It was not within our control. Taking one’s life is not a rational decision.
  13. Realize your child did not take their life to hurt you. You might feel angry; it’s a common response. Realize your child had tunnel vision in that moment, and just wanted to end their pain.
  14. Know how to deal with inappropriate questions, like people wanting details about your child’s death. It is none of their business unless they are close to you and you feel like sharing. You can simply say, “I do not want to discuss it.” Or, “This isn’t helping me right now.” You need consoling. You do not need to console others.
  15. When you’re ready, consider volunteering. Get involved with your local AFSP chapter. Whether it’s helping out with the annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, the Healing Conversations program, or any number of other ways you can get involved, I have found that once I had given myself time to process my loss, giving back to a community of fellow loss survivors aided me in my own grief journey.

We need to work hard not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way our children died. Our children had an illness, just like cancer or any other disease. There’s no need to hide it. As survivors of suicide loss, we learn to survive and live a fulfilling, although different life than what we had expected. My hope is that you can use some of the ideas I’ve shared to help you find your own way forward.

How to cope with a child's suicide

Q: About five years ago, I lost my 21-year-old son to suicide. Of course I was devastated. I was a single parent with Dustin until he was about 12 years old. I can’t help but feel that some of the choices I made affected his life in a negative way. I have a lot of guilt, and I miss him terribly. Although it has gotten easier to live with this loss, I do feel stuck in my grief a lot of the time, and I really want to move on with my life and live again. I know my son lives on the other side—I get signs from him, and I’ve had friends that have been to psychics tell me different things. I know it in my head, but dealing with it in my heart and soul is a different thing. I need to release myself from this guilt and move on with my life and do what I believe I am supposed to be doing now that Dustin is gone. He was so loved, and I still get emails from his friends telling me how much he helped them in their lives. Please, how do I let go of the guilt and go on with my life—not just go through the motions, but really start to live again?

— Linda B., Sun City, California

Dear Linda,
I get the feeling you are actually living a life that is productive, not crippled by grief. If you are asking how to be entirely grief-free, most mothers would attest that it isn’t possible. Accept that grief can be a normal, manageable emotion. Your bond with Dustin is based on love, and when love is lost, it can still be love, but with associations of sadness, regret and guilt. So the realistic question is this: Can you have love-with-grief that is life-enhancing for you? I think the answer is yes. It’s a matter of making the love always greater than the grief.

    Keep a journal in which you enter the feelings you have for him every day. Fill this journal with loving remembrances, but also be honest about whatever emotion is present that day. Be complete and thorough. When you have finished an entry, bless your son and do something you really enjoy.

Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

Keep Reading:
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How are we blessed if there’s suffering and pain?
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How to cope with a child's suicide

Most of us can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a child in an accident, or assault or as a result of an illness. Can you imagine then how much more difficult, emotionally, it might be for a parent to lose a child as a result of suicide? Though suicides amongst children and teens are not very common, tragically they do happen.

Parental Guilt When A Child Commits Suicide

When a child dies by suicide, it brings about not only the usual emotions found in the grieving process, but, in addition, often brings about a great sense of guilt for parents, family members and close friends. “Could I have done more?” “Might I have prevented the suicide if only I had. “

There is often frustration between the two parents with regard to what could have or should have been done that might have prevented the depression or behavior that led to the suicide. Anger is a normal part of the grief reaction, and in the case of a suicide of a child, that anger can lead to fights between the parents or between parents and friends of the child about what “could have or should have” been done to prevent the suicide.

Impact of Child Suicide

When I was in training, I was taught that parents who lose a child, especially to suicide, were more likely to divorce than other couples. Fortunately, a review of the research literature shows that this is not the case. While it is certainly true that the death of a child (especially from suicide) can strain a marital relationship, there is no evidence that the suicide is more likely to result in separation or divorce than other causes of marital discord. In some cases, the loss and bereavement may, in fact, strengthen a relationship although it often takes years before the effects of the death of a child result in stabilization of a relationship.

Coping with the Suicide of a Child

Most of the experts agree that the best thing to do following the loss of a child, especially to suicide, is to find a support group that understands and can help the bereaved parents cope with the feelings that they may have and yet not understand very well. This may be accomplished through finding a formal support group or getting counseling from a mental health professional, clergyman, or both.

How to cope with a child's suicideShame, guilt, anger, denial over a suicide attempt prevent many families from getting the help they need to navigate the crisis.

When a child attempts suicide, these emotions hit families like a Mack truck. Some family members bury their feelings deep inside and refuse to accept the stark reality. Others spring into action and vow never again to let the child who attempted suicide out of their sight. But no matter how a family deals with the aftermath of a suicide, they are forever changed by it.

“The repercussions from a suicide attempt can go on for years,” says Daniel Hoover, PhD, a psychologist with the Adolescent Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic and associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine Houston.

Guilt and shame over a suicide attempt prevent many families from getting the help they need to work through the crisis, Dr. Hoover continues. An estimated 30 percent of families of children who attempt suicide seek family therapy, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 1997, and about 77 percent of families referred to treatment after an adolescent attempts suicide drop out according to a 1993 Journal study.

Many families don’t pursue treatment because they deny or minimize their child’s suicide attempt. Teenagers who attempt suicide may also not admit they tried to kill themselves.

“Even when you see a young person in the emergency room right after he or she completed an attempt, very quickly the denial kicks in,” Dr. Hoover says. “She may say, ‘I never meant it,’ or ‘it was an accident,’ or denying she even made an attempt. Families do the same thing because of the intensity of the suicide issue.”

Complicating matters, teenagers may attempt suicide while in treatment for mental illness, such as depression or substance abuse. Families are reluctant to put their trust in the mental health system again–feeling it failed them.

That’s unfortunate, Dr. Hoover says, because families desperately need support and direction after a child attempts suicide. Depression, which leads to suicidal thinking, affects the entire family unit. To move past the tragedy, families must address the issues that the suicide caused, and continues to cause, in their lives. Chief among the issues is the family’s increased sense of responsibility for the child who attempted suicide. Worried about a repeat suicide attempt, family members, and parents in particular, feel that they have to watch their child constantly—in some cases, sleeping at the foot of the child’s bed every night to make sure he or she won’t attempt suicide.

“Parents feel a huge obligation to watch over their child,” Dr. Hoover says, “At first it may seem somewhat comforting to the child, but then the parents become so intrusive in the child’s life he or she thinks, ‘I can’t live like this anymore.”

Helping families reach that middle ground between protecting and smothering their children is the main goal for family therapy at the Menninger Adolescent Treatment Program, which treats adolescents age 12 to 17. Patients in the inpatient treatment program struggle with family, school and social difficulties because of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric illness or substance abuse. Some patients also have attempted suicide once or multiple times.

Dr. Hoover recommends individual therapy as well as appropriate psychiatric medication for children who attempt suicide, as most are quite depressed and feel hopeless. Their parents and other children in the family may also benefit from individual therapy, especially if they found them after the attempt.

“Often siblings are just as stressed out as the parents because they find the brother after the overdose, or they are the ones in the background while Mom and Dad and the brother are having all of the conflicts,” Dr. Hoover says. “So they have been traumatized by it and they need their own help.”

Working with therapists at Menninger, patients in the Adolescent Treatment Program learn to develop agency, or the ability to take action and exert control, over their mental illness and suicidal feelings. They learn skills to cope, ways to self-soothe and to seek out sources of support other than their parents. They also learn to share their thoughts and feelings with their parents, and to communicate with their parents if they are feeling suicidal.

Parents, in turn, learn how to listen and not overreact.

“When parents witness that their child is handling his or her feelings better, and knows when to seek help, it lowers their anxiety so much,” Dr. Hoover says.

Family therapy immediately following a suicide attempt may not be productive, Dr. Hoover says, because emotions are raw, and the suicide attempt is still fresh in the family members’ minds. Once the child who attempted suicide learns how to deal with his or her hopelessness and depression, and the parents begin to deal with their own anxieties and guilty or angry feelings, then they may be ready for family therapy. Family therapy helps family members learn how to communicate better with each other and express their feelings more constructively.

A serious public health problem, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents.

And while suicide and depression are interwoven, other triggers of suicidal thoughts and actions can include a romantic relationship breakup, failing in school, being bullied, or experiencing abuse, loss or other trauma.

Here’s what parents need to know about suicide prevention:

1. Know the warning signs

  • Pay attention to children talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, or being a being a burden to others.
  • Suicide notes are a very real sign of danger and should always be taken seriously. These notes may be in the form of letters, emails, social media posts or text messages.
  • If someone has attempted suicide in the past, they are more likely to try again.
  • Watch for children making final arrangements like saying goodbye to friends; giving away prized possessions; or deleting social media profiles, pictures or posts.
  • Making sudden dramatic changes can be a sign too. Watch out for teens withdrawing from friends and family; skipping school or classes; becoming less involved in activities that were once important; avoiding others; having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time; suddenly losing or gaining weight; or showing a disinterest in appearance or hygiene.
  • A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns or pills, or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan.
  • Sudden risky behaviors can indicate suicidal thoughts. Watch for increased use of alcohol or drugs, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge. Self-injury is also a warning sign for young children and teenagers.

2. If you have any suspicion, ask your child if they are thinking about killing themselves. This will not put the idea into their head or make them more likely to attempt suicide.

3. Listen to your child without judgement and let them know you care.

4. Help your child stay engaged in their usual coping activities life family activities and sports.

5. If your child is in danger, stay with them or ensure they are in a private, secure place with another caring person until you can get further help.

6. Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt like medications, guns, sharp knives, ropes or cords, or cleaning products.

7. If danger of self-harm or suicide is mounting, call 911.

8. Know your resources.

Find a therapist by calling CalOptima Behavioral Health at 855-877-3885 or checking with your insurance provider on its website or phone number printed on the back of your card.

Here are other ways to get help for a child having suicidal thoughts: Call the MHSA Suicide Prevention Line at 877-727-4747 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Text CONNECT to 741741. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

How one woman found courage, comfort, and community after an unthinkable loss.

Posted May 7, 2019

How to cope with a child's suicide

A handful of years ago, I began interviewing widows and listening to the bereaved share their narratives in what would become a book I co-authored, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing”. The first widow I interviewed with my co-author, was a widow whose husband died from suicide. This is a conversation I’ll never forget. I remember her courage to speak not only about his death but also about the judgmental comments which enveloped nearly every conversation post-loss. Sadly, she confessed she stopped telling people suicide was the cause of his death, and instead she stated upon inquiry that her husband died “from a broken heart”.

Healing one’s broken heart after loss is messy and often complex. I know being able to share one’s story about loss with full transparency can be an integral part of the healing process. And when I came across a book, “Life After Suicide: Finding Courage, Comfort & Community After Unthinkable Loss” written by a medical doctor, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, I knew it was something I longed to learn from, but also hoped to share with other widows as well as practitioners.

Dr. Ashton writes with compassion when she describes the impact her ex- husband’s (they were divorced just 18 days when he jumped off the George Washington Bridge) suicide has on solo -parenting her now 20-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter. Dr. Ashton writes, “Kids don’t want stand-ins on parents’ weekend, no matter how much they love those stand-ins.”

And in dealing with the avalanche of emotions post-loss, Dr. Ashton spoke with me about the challenges of solo parenting. She said she and her children sought and still seek professional guidance from a mental health professional. She explains, “I didn’t ask to be a solo parent. My kids didn’t ask for a solo parent. I don’t get angry. I’m sad for them.”

In coping with this sadness, Dr. Ashton says she reflected back on her marriage and close relationship with Dr. Robert Ashton. She says she thought about what she may have missed as signs he was depressed. She explains, “He didn’t have the classic signs of depression. And when he walked away from his (medical) career I thought he was following his dream.”

To help cope with her loss, Dr. Ashton also reached out to other families whose lives were impacted by suicide to learn how they managed their unthinkable loss. Parts of their stories are within her book as well.

Writing can be a healthy and healing way for the bereaved to manage their grief. Regardless if one decides to share their writing with others, it offers a way to release a part of the inner pain. Writing gives an opportunity to flesh out some of the issues that are often too difficult to share aloud with another person. In the writing process, it is not unusual for the bereaved to write about other issues which they then discover impact their ability to cope with grief.

In writing her book Dr. Ashton found the process to be “very intense going back in time” and “therapeutic”. She says, “Writing helped me put things in a different perspective.”

And one of the perspectives Dr. Ashton uses with her children is gratitude. “We have a massive amount of gratitude for all of the blessings in our life.”

If you or a loved one has thoughts about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Ashton, Jennifer (2019). Life After Suicide: Finding Courage, Comfort & Community After Unthinkable Loss. New York, NY: William Morrow Press.

As a parent, it’s frightening to hear your child talk about suicide and it can be difficult to know how to help.

How to cope with a child's suicide

If your child is in immediate danger call 000 and stay with them until they are safe.

If they have a plan for hurting themselves call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

If your child is having thoughts of suicide, it may feel overwhelming but there are ways you can support them

Trust yourself and your instincts and let your child know that you're concerned.

Listen to your child without judgement

Show them that you care and they're not alone with this

Get professional support through a GP, psychologist or counsellor

Encourage them to talk to a Kids Helpline counsellor for additional support

As a parent, it might be difficult to tell the difference between warning signs and normal ups and downs for your child

Here are some common warning signs. But if you're unsure, reach out for support.

Withdrawing from others

Hints they're thinking about suicide such as “I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up”

Talking about feeling worthless, hopeless, alone, being a burden to others or having no reason to live

Talking about death or suicide (even in a joking way)

Dramatic changes in mood including being suddenly happy

Not doing things they used to enjoy

Increased drug or alcohol use

Giving away possessions or saying goodbye

Having the means to end their life such as medication or weapons

As a parent, you can be your child’s greatest source of support

How you can help your child with thoughts of suicide:

“Know that it's ok not to have all the answers: just listen, be patient, show them you care and help them get professional support.” – Samuel, 22

Hearing that your child is having suicidal thoughts is distressing and it's likely to have a big impact on you.

You're not expected to be their counsellor or to know exactly what to do. Reaching out for professional support is important for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your child.

Here are some more counselling and crisis support options:

Call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people up to the age of 25)

Call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 (for people over the age of 15)

Why we need more children’s books about suicide and severe depression.

How to cope with a child's suicide

With the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths, along with the revelation that these two famous people were among the approximately 861 Americans who die by suicide every week, a national conversation began about things we should be doing to help prevent this. Many of these things, thankfully, are already being done to some extent: identifying those at risk and working to improve mental health services. What are we not doing? Talking to kids about suicide.

I’m a children’s-book author, so it is my job to talk—in person as well as on paper—with kids. My most recent middle-grade novel is All Three Stooges, which is about two comedy-obsessed 12-year-old boys whose friendship falls apart in the aftermath of a parent’s suicide. It was inspired, in part, by the suicide of my friend Dave, who was also my younger daughter’s best friend’s dad. Writing the book involved interviewing teens and tweens who had lost parents and caregivers to suicide, volunteering at a grief camp for kids, and soliciting feedback on drafts from colleagues and kids. When All Three Stooges came out, many librarians and educators told me how much they loved it, but few invited me to speak to their students about it.

Whenever I delivered the novel’s elevator pitch, audiences that would smile as I mentioned the book’s focus on friendship, faith, and funny business would wince when I hit the word suicide. The final blow came when a philanthropic organization that had sponsored the distribution of copies of my previous novels passed on All Three Stooges. They apologized, explaining that they did not feel comfortable sending it home with 11-year-olds, whose families might not be ready to discuss the subject of suicide.

I get it. When Dave died, my husband and I definitely didn’t want to explain to our kids why their friend’s dad, the guy who’d made them s’mores on camping trips, was suddenly gone. Did we have to? we wondered. After all, the kids were young. The situation was jarring and felt surreal—our first and last window into Dave’s scrupulously well-concealed battle with severe depression. We also worried about making things worse. What if, in our bumbling attempts to offer clarity, we inadvertently planted a fear that one of us might be next? When Dave’s widow informed us that she’d told their daughter it was a heart attack instead of a suicide, relief washed over us. We didn’t have to tell our kids the truth. In fact, we couldn’t—out of respect for Dave’s family (and concern that our kids might blurt something out and reveal the ruse).

What neither of us realized at the time was that this cover story would eventually fester and implode, as lies so often do. When the real cause of Dave’s death was shared with his daughter— by the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong way—her distress was compounded by the realization that she had been deceived for years. My husband and I then tried to set the record straight with our own kids. It wasn’t a fun conversation. We struggled to answer the “Why?” part. We had even more trouble with the “How?” part. And, of course, there was the “Why did you say heart attack?” part, with dismay expressed for not just the fact that this fiction was created for Dave’s daughter “but that you guys went along with it.” We had to admit that, in hindsight, it sure didn’t look like our finest parenting moment.

Why should you talk to your kids about suicide, especially if there is no Dave in your life? Of course, these are kids—10-, 11-, 12-year-olds—and you might hope that suicide is a topic they won’t encounter until they’re much older. You might even have the morbid worry that the more you say on the subject, the more likely they’ll be to harm themselves (a franchise of the fine family of myths that keep parents tap dancing around subjects like sex and drugs, especially if we have our own baggage). Maybe you’ve read the recent articles about suicide clusters and the “copycat” effect. Maybe you binge-watched—or boycotted—13 Reasons Why.

The impulse to protect kids from subject matter that we deem too dangerous, upsetting, or “adult” is, needless to say, a common one. When Kate Messner took on the subject of opioid addiction in her middle-grade novel The Seventh Wish, she found resistance from those who felt this was not an appropriate topic for fourth- and fifth-graders. This included an email from a librarian who told her, “I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds’ biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.” “Kids want this too, but that’s not always their reality,” Messner told me recently. “Not talking about these issues doesn’t mean kids don’t think about them. It just leaves them alone in the dark.”

One answer to this problem, some might suggest, is setting these books aside for just those kids who need them. A bookseller I know proudly reported giving a copy of my book All Three Stooges to a social worker who counsels grieving kids. But I also get concerned about books being placed on a high shelf and reserved for Kids Experiencing This Specific Issue. Many kids suffer in silence with issues at home that are not on the radar of their teachers or peers. Seeing themselves and their struggles in print validates their experiences and helps them feel less alone. And books about parental suicide and mental illness are not just potentially helpful to kids who are struggling with those issues; these books can be helpful to all kids in fourth or fifth grade, if not earlier.

How to cope with a child's suicide

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.

Moving forward

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.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.