We talk about suicide prevention and awareness a lot on this site, even how to cope with losing someone who died by suicide, but what about those who are still with us after an attempt? Other than feeling incredibly grateful and relieved that their attempt failed, how can we be supportive of those who are navigating life after attempting suicide? What do we say to them? Should we bring it up at all? Should we pretend like nothing happened and try to make their lives just as they were before?
When tragedy strikes, it’s normal to feel like you don’t know what to do. It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re no expert on how to be a good friend, brother, sister, cousin, or classmate to someone who tried to end their life. With rates of suicide remaining consistently high, now is a good time to think about how you’ll respond and offer support if someone in your life is suicidal or attempts suicide. What does a suicide survivor really need to hear?
Remember, if you or someone you know is suicidal, tell someone. Get help. Call 911 or a crisis lifeline. Keep an eye out for the warning signs and support one another.
Top 7 Things to Say to People Who Have Attempted Suicide
1. I’m really glad you’re here.
Showing real appreciation for their presence means a lot. A big part of feeling suicidal is often feeling like nobody would notice or care too much if they were gone. If you can make it a special point to let them know you’re happy to see them, that can go a long way.
2. I can’t make the pain go away, but I’m here for whatever you may need.
Be specific about this one. Don’t dance around the fact that you know they’re recovering from a suicide attempt. Pretending nothing happened or skirting the subject can add to their feelings of not being seen or understood. Get real when you offer support. Do they need someone to call at 2:00 am when the dark thoughts get too scary? Do they need rides to places in order to have the motivation to go out? Do they just need someone to talk to every day? Let them know you care and are willing to jump in when they need assistance.
3. What have you been thinking about lately?
This is a great question to ask any friend on any day, but especially for someone battling with past or present suicidality. Their minds can become pretty chaotic places, and sometimes the question, “How are you?” doesn’t cut it. Work a little harder at asking a more specific question so that coming up with an answer won’t feel as overwhelming to this person who’s already dealing with a lot.
4. Do you have any plans to attempt suicide again? Will you tell me more about that? Can I help by getting rid of the tools you might be thinking of using?
Remember that a person’s suicidality doesn’t necessarily end once they’ve attempted. Just because they survived this attempt doesn’t mean they’re not suicidal anymore. Again, specificity is key. It may feel to you like this is prying, but if you’re close enough with this person to know they’ve just survived a suicide attempt, acting like they don’t need that part of them understood isn’t helpful. If they aren’t interested in that kind of support from you, they’ll make that clear. If they admit that they are still entertaining thoughts of ending their life, ask how they’re planning to do it and if you can help by taking away the things they’re planning to use. You can help them flush medications, lock up sharp objects, etc. It’s also crucial that neither of you keeps this suicidality a secret. Get support or call 911 if the threat is immediate.
5. Want to come with me to go _____?
Suicide scares everyone. This person may not feel comfortable asking to hang out, and a lot of people will avoid inviting them to do things. Whether it’s a trip to get a slushy, a few hours at the mall, or a night in at your place, be the one who makes them feel welcome. Help them see that there are things and people worth staying alive for.
6. I thought of you earlier when I saw _____.
If you know they like Jason Mamoa, send them memes, videos, and interviews. If you know they’re into soccer or theatre or gardening, shoot them a text when you see or hear something related to their favorite topics. Just like #1, it’s easy for a struggling person to believe that nobody notices when they aren’t around, so dropping them a note now and then can help them remember that they’re important enough to be on your mind.
7. I believe you.
Not everyone is understanding about suicide attempts. It’s likely that this person has already encountered a friend or family member who accused them of being overdramatic or has even gotten angry with them for attempting suicide. It can be difficult for a suicide survivor to feel understood or even believed when they try to explain how much pain they’re in. Be the person who hears them, sees them, and believes them. Trust that if they tried to take their own life, they did it because the pain really and truly got that intense.
Things to Avoid Saying
There are also plenty of things NOT to say.
- I’m shocked.
- This could add to their feelings of not being seen or heard. If you are shocked, that just means you didn’t really know this person as deeply as they needed you to–don’t rub that in their faces. Do better. They are not shocked that it came to this. It was a long time in the making.
- Why would you do this to us?
- Another person’s suicide is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you. They are already dealing with the feelings that led them to feeling life wasn’t worth living in addition to the shock of surviving such a traumatic event. There’s no way in which adding guilt or shame on top of that is a supportive or wise thing for you to do.
- Why didn’t you ask me for help?
- You really can’t think of an answer to this? If they didn’t come to you with their feelings, it’s likely that they didn’t feel their dark and dangerous thoughts would be understood. Instead of focusing on what could have gone differently in their past, consider how you can be there for them now.
- All this drama over _____?
- Do not, by any means, minimize this person’s pain. It doesn’t matter “why” this person got to the point of attempting suicide. What matters is that they’re alive and that you get a chance to support them moving forward.
- Everything will be back to normal soon.
- Think about it. Their “normal” wasn’t so great. Their “normal” ended in a suicide attempt. Rather than going back to that, they’re probably desperately hoping that things will be better.
- I’m glad you failed at your attempt.
- Being alive is not a failure. Surviving is a success. Using words like “failed” and “unsuccessful” sends a message that this person couldn’t even do that one thing right. Words matter.
Also, try to remember that a deep depression is a debilitating mental illness that anyone can suffer from. Just like you wouldn’t ask someone who has diabetes why they have diabetes, interrogating a depressed or suicidal person isn’t kind, logical, or supportive. If you have these questions, it’s normal, but the person who has just survived suicide does not have the answers you seek. Talk to a friend, a trusted adult, or look into professional counseling. Watching someone you love nearly die by their own hand is big trauma, and you’re allowed to ask for support even as you support them.
We Were Built to Support One Another
One of the most commonly reported symptoms of suicidality is the feeling that you are completely and utterly alone. Feeling alone, isolated, or like nobody knows the real you hurt that badly because we were created to be in community with one another. We are not supposed to have to handle everything by ourselves. We are supposed to have each other. The book of Galatians says to “carry each other’s burdens” and, in 1 Thessalonians, to “continue encouraging each other and building each other up.” There is no immediate cure for depression or suicidality, but knowing that we can rely on each other and committing to be a source of support for friends and family is a pretty good step. If you’re still not sure what to say to the person in your life who’s survived a suicide attempt, try talking to God about it. God knows us deeply and fully, which is why He designed us for community and relationships. If you’d like help talking to God, or you’re looking for more suicide awareness resources, you can also chat with one of our Hope Coaches. We believe that nobody should ever feel alone.
Being there for someone who is depressed can bring challenges. Click here to read things to never say to a depressed person.