Experiencing the suicide attempt of a family member or friend can be very overwhelming. If you have had this experience, it is natural for you to be feeling lots of emotions. You are probably  feeling relieved that your loved one has survived but also feeling angry or scared, thinking things like,

“Why did they do this?”

“How did I not see that they were in so much pain and/or danger?”

“What can I do to keep them safe?”

“How could they have done this to me?”

If you have had someone close to you survive a suicide attempt, it is important that you get the support you need. You may be tempted to ask your loved one questions such as those above. It is important to remember however, that they have just survived a traumatic event, one that was likely preceded by lots of pain and confusion. They may not be ready or able to answer your questions right now.  Make sure that you have someone to talk to about your feelings (such as a friend, counselor or crisis hotline) so that you can be the kind of support that they need.

What they likely need from you is a calm, listening ear and unconditional support. They need to know that you care about them.  The may also need practical support from you as well.  Perhaps they would like you to go with them to appointments or to stay with them for a while after their attempt.  Maybe just an exercise partner or a lunch date is what they need.  Ask them what kind of support is best for them.  Also remember, it is okay for you to set limits in order to take care of yourself and it is important to let them know what they are.

You may find yourself worrying about the safety of your loved one after their attempt, this is natural.  It is not possible to “watch” a person all of the time and likely this is not what will help them to feel most supported anyway.  If they require that level of constant support, it might be best to see if their hospital visit can be extended.  For most people, however it is most comfortable for them to recover in their own homes with the support of the people that they love.  It is important to consider what you can do to make that environment safe, such as removing items that they may use to harm themselves.  To learn more about creating a safe environment visit the Lethal Means Counseling Website (www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/recommendations/families/)

If you think that your loved one or friend may be suicidal again, it is important to ask them.  It is not uncommon for a person to experience suicidal thoughts after their attempt.  Allowing them to feel comfortable sharing these thoughts is important.  Working with them to develop a safety plan to use if they are feeling suicidal can help them to stay safe.  If you are not comfortable talking to them about their thoughts of suicide, it is important to make sure they have someone in their life that is, like a counselor or crisis hotline.

It may be that your loved one has been struggling with a mental illness. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) offers support groups in many communities for friends and family of individuals with a mental illness, to find out more visit www.nami.org.