by Steve Johnson
Attempting to move on and heal after a loved one tries to harm themselves is never easy. Emotions are high and sometimes feelings of denial, blame, or guilt interfere with the family’s ability to come together. A suicide attempt can forever alter the lives of the people involved, and if there is no resolution, there can be no healing.
It’s important to remember that when a loved one attempts to take their own life, it’s rarely about the fact that they wanted to die. Rather, they were in blinding pain and saw no other way out. Suicide is often outside our understanding, so keep in mind that–as much as you may want to help–you’ll probably have a hard time empathizing because you can’t imagine what they were going through. As long as you try to stay calm, let them know you’re there for them, and listen to what they have to say, your family can begin to move forward in a healthy way.
Take your loved one seriously
It can be difficult for us to imagine that someone we love was in so much pain that they chose to try to end their own lives; it can be hard for the victim to believe, too. For some, the aftermath of an attempt is fraught with fear, anxiety, and, eventually, denial.
“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. 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,” says Dr. Daniel Hoover, a psychologist with the Adolescent Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic.
It’s important, then, to take an attempt seriously no matter what your loved one says afterward. Equally important is finding delicate ways to word your conversations. Never make someone who has attempted suicide feel as though they were being selfish in their actions, and try not to act shocked at what they’ve done. It’s not helpful for anyone to lay blame or make them feel as though they have pushed you away, particularly if you follow a religion that has strong opinions about suicide.
While it’s imperative that a person who has attempted to take their own life be treated for the root cause–whether it’s depression or a mental/mood disorder–it’s also just as important to help them seek treatment for any signs of drug or alcohol abuse. Substances can make some disorders harder to diagnose and treat, and often they only make the disorder worse.
Dealing with all the emotions an attempted suicide can bring is overwhelming. You may feel angry at your loved one for not coming to you with their problems first, or because you almost lost them. It’s okay to feel those things, but voicing your negative feelings to the victim is not helpful. They likely already feel guilty and isolated, so the best thing to do is seek a counselor or therapist of your own to help you cope.
How to help a child
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youths aged 10-24. Often, the teen and pre-teen years are full of emotion and turbulent times caused by school or changes at home, but young people are likely not mature enough to know how to cope with it all. Suicide can seem like the only option at times, especially during stressful events like bullying or coming to terms with one’s sexuality. It’s important to sit down and talk with your child about the subjects that matter, take an active interest in their life and who they are spending time with, and stay away from accusatory words. If you suspect depression or suicidal thoughts, be open and honest and start a conversation about what they’re going through. Let them know you’re there for them and don’t judge. Sometimes a listening ear is all they need.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org as part of a school project. He and a fellow pre-med student enjoyed working on the site so much that they decided to keep it going. Their goal is to make PublicHealthLibrary.org one of the go-to sources for health and medical information on the web.