4 min read


Caitlin Harper

How To Talk To Your Family And Friends After A Suicide Attempt

Your safety and wellbeing are, above all, the most important things. If you are ever in crisis, dial 911. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Crisis Text Line at 741741 for free and confidential support. MyWellbeing also has pages of free resources, low fee and insurance resources, crisis resources, and special offerings during COVID-19. Talking with family and friends about your suicide attempt can be one of the hardest steps, but how much you share and when is always up to you. You deserve to feel safe and supported, and we’re here for you—here are some things that might help.
How To Talk To Your Family And Friends After A Suicide Attempt
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Your safety and wellbeing are, above all, the most important things. If you are ever in crisis, dial 911. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Crisis Text Line at 741741 for free and confidential support. MyWellbeing also has pages of free resources, low fee and insurance resources, crisis resources, and special offerings during COVID-19.

As you take the first steps toward recovery after a suicide attempt, you might encounter questions from family and friends about what happened. How much and what to share is completely up to you, but if you want to talk to your family and friends about your suicide attempt, it can be difficult to find the right words.

While the events that lead to a suicide attempt can vary from person to person, a common theme that many suicide attempt survivors report is the need to feel relief. It took time for the pain that led to your suicide attempt to become unbearable, and it may also take some time for it to subside. Remember that you’re not alone, we care about you, and we’re here to help.

It’s completely up to you how much you share and with whom

The people in your life will probably have questions and comments about your suicide attempt, but what you decide to share, if anything, and whom you decide to share it with is completely and totally up to you. You’re under no obligation to disclose information about your experience if it doesn’t feel right to you.

After a suicide attempt, you’ll probably experience many conflicting thoughts and emotions. It’s okay to take time to work through them on your own or with a support person or therapist before you share with others. There’s no one timeline that suits all people. Each individual’s needs are unique and the only thing that matters is that you’re still alive and you’re not alone.

It can be helpful to plan what you might say in advance if someone asks about your suicide attempt

It can be stressful to be caught off guard, and having answers prepared ahead of time can help you alleviate that stress. If you want to talk about your suicide attempt, you can say, “Thank you for thinking of me,” and share whatever details you choose. When you don’t want to talk, you could say things like:

  • I appreciate you asking about me, but I’m not prepared to share yet.
  • I was going through a painful time and still am. Right now, I’m not in the place to talk about it.
  • Thank you for thinking of me, but I’d rather not talk about it right now.

No one should pressure you into speaking about your suicide attempt. If you feel stressed or unsafe for any reason, you can end the conversation and turn to your coping strategies, support person, therapist, or counselor for help.

Just because someone doesn’t ask, doesn’t mean they don’t care

Because of the stigma around mental health, many people are afraid of talking about suicide. They think that if they bring it up, it could put suicidal thoughts into someone’s head or cause them to make another attempt. There’s a very good chance that if people aren’t asking you questions, they are under these misconceptions.

“My younger sister died by suicide with no previous attempts two years ago,” said Christine Carville, an NYC therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “I knew she was struggling with sadness, brain injury, and lack of purpose for years, but despite my training in mental health, I never asked her simply ‘Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?’ I've asked hundreds of clients and trained many more hundreds of students and therapists to ask this question. And yet, I never asked my own sister with whom I spoke at least weekly and is the inspiration for my career in social work.”

“We might fear that by asking the question, we would plant ideas in our loved ones minds, but that isn't true,” Christine said. “When someone is in so much pain, the idea that their only option might be suicide comes from the brain as a way forward. When we ask this question, we offer the opportunity for more options. You do not need to be a mental health professional to ask the folks you care about this essential question.”

Just as people are afraid of asking, “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?” they may fear saying, “I want to support you during your recovery,” or, “I will listen to you without judgement,” or, “You can count on me to help you stay safe.” Remember, you matter and you are not alone. Just because someone is struggling to find the words to speak to you, does not mean that they are not thinking of you.

Be as direct as you can be about the support you need

If you are concerned about talking to others about your suicide attempt, those concerns are totally valid. Shame, dreading the reaction of others, or fear of being hospitalized are some of the reasons that prevent people from talking about suicide, but direct and open communication about suicide can help prevent people from acting on suicidal thoughts. When you need support, you can say things like:

  • I’d like to be able to count on you to help me stay safe.
  • If I share my experience, I need you to listen without judgment so I can feel supported.
  • Just being present in my life during my recovery is very helpful.
  • It’s important for me right now to know that people care about me.

You and your doctor or therapist should work together to develop a safety plan to help reduce the risk of a future suicide attempt. It can be difficult to open up and admit that you need help from others, but it’s also important to have a support person who understands your unique needs. Your support person will know your safety plan, the tools you use that help you identify your triggers that lead to suicidal thoughts, and coping strategies that will help if the pain that led to your suicide attempt returns.

A therapist can help you during your recovery process

Just as a therapist or counselor can help you find ways to examine your experiences and cope with your feelings, they can provide a safe place for you to talk without fear of judgement. Your therapist will treat you with respect and compassion and act as an unbiased listener. It’s important to find a therapist who has experience helping suicide survivors and additional experience with your unique needs, such as anxiety, depression, life transitions, trauma or substance abuse. Here are some questions you can ask a potential therapist to see if you’re both a good fit and other tips to prepare you for your phone consultation.

A therapist can also help you see how others might have reacted to your death by suicide, understand what they might be feeling now, and work with you to figure out a way to communicate with them that keeps you safe.

Again, what you share with anyone is entirely up to you—you should do what makes you feel safe and helps you in your recovery

Talking about your attempt might be difficult, but finding support from family, friends, counselors, and therapists can aid your recovery. When you made your suicide attempt, you felt as if suicide was a way to end your pain. At that moment, in your mind, your reasons for dying outweighed your reasons for living. As you’ve learned, reconnecting with your reasons for living can help you build hope. Your recovery will be a process with its own ups and downs, but remember that you are alive, you’re not alone, you matter, and we’re here for you.

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About the author

Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.

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