As devastating and serious as suicide is, it’s a topic that people hide away from. Because of this, many people are left to suffer in silence. Their closest loved ones are left oblivious to their pain. Or, their loved ones may suspect something is wrong but don’t know how to bring it up, so they stay silent. Part of what’s so isolating about having suicidal thoughts is that people can’t relate to feeling that all-encompassing pain. They can’t imagine ending one’s life would ever be an option. To foster greater empathy and understanding for what someone who is suicidal may be going through, it’s helpful to turn to people who have been there: attempt survivors. Through the opportunity of learning from those with lived experience around suicide, we can do better in the future to foster hope, meaning, and purpose in life.
Here’s 8 things attempt survivors want you to know.
You can – and should – ask someone who could be suicidal how they’re feeling.
Many people keep this side of themselves hidden away for years. They may feel alone and isolated, but refuse to reach out for help. They’re afraid of the reaction they will receive. If you suspect someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can help break down that wall by checking in on them. Ask them how they’re doing and offer a nonjudgmental ear.
Don’t be afraid to say the word “suicide.”
A lot of people avoid the word because they’re afraid to trigger something and maybe even make it so an attempt survivor would feel like doing it again. This is a huge misconception. There’s no evidence that talking about suicide gives someone the idea to end their life. Rather, being direct and talking about suicide can actually open paths of communication a vulnerable person may be looking for.
It’s okay if you don’t know what to say.
Suicide isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but it’s simpler than you might think to get help. It can be as straightforward as offering to call a crisis center or hotline together. It’s also fine to come right out and say you’re not sure how to handle the situation. Rather than trying to find solutions, just be attentive and compassionate. You could say, “I don’t know what to say, but I do care about you.”
Suicidal thoughts aren’t necessarily about a desire to die.
In my research of this topic, many attempt survivors expressed different variations of a common theme: Their suicide attempts weren’t as much about a desire to die as they were about making a particular kind of pain stop. Some were overwhelmed with stress and found peace after their suicide attempt. Others just didn’t want to continue living with the pain, especially because it was pain nobody could see. All of this made suicide an option.
Suicidal thoughts are isolating, but connection helps.
Many people with suicidal thoughts don’t realize other people have them too. Once a person begins to feel like there’s no other option but suicide, this pattern of thinking can start to feel like tunnel vision. That can make them blind to other opportunities. Sometimes all it takes to escape the tunnel vision is connection.
Sharing stories of recovery can save lives.
Attempting suicide can feel like a shameful, dark secret for a long time. Many survivors soon realize that they have the ability to reach others by sharing their experience. They could help others to not only talk about their experience, but hopefully not make an attempt. Sharing may even save a life. Remember, some people with suicidal thoughts may have never encountered others who experience the same thing. But after hearing from attempt survivors, they realize, “Other people have suicidal thoughts and they survived. It’s something that people can get through. Maybe I can, too.”
Different people benefit from different treatment.
Some suicide attempt survivors find help from medication. Others manage their mental health with counseling, including cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. For others, it’s about implementing a practice of physical and mental self-care: eating well, exercising, relying on caring family and friends, listening to uplifting music, being alone when needing to recharge, etc.
Even if a person is no longer suicidal, understand that bad days still happen.
As with a physical condition like heart disease or diabetes, people who have attempted suicide may need continued care. For some, this means checking in with their therapists when things start to feel heavy again. Even if a person is no longer feeling suicidal, there are some lasting consequences and there will still be some tough days ahead. In this situation, you can help by being understanding and showing support. It may be just the thing to get an attempt survivor through the rough patch.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).