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How to Talk to Your Loved One About Suicide

concerned mother sitting with daughter on her bed struggling with how to talk about suicide

By: Sarah Richmond, LMSW, Program Therapist

If your loved one has just attempted suicide, you may be struggling to figure out how to talk to them. This can be a challenging and emotional time for everyone involved, and talking about it may feel daunting. The person who attempted suicide, as well as their loved ones, may feel a range of complex emotions, including fear, confusion, and deep sadness. It’s important to approach the situation with kindness, understanding, and empathy. This post will include tips on how to talk to your loved one after a suicide attempt and steer them toward mental health treatment programs.

Empathy and Support

The first and most critical step in communicating with your loved one is to show them empathy and support. Make it clear that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being and that you are there for them in any way that they need you. It’s important to avoid sounding judgmental or critical and to choose your words carefully when speaking with them.

Remember that the person who attempted suicide may be feeling a sense of shame, guilt, or vulnerability. As such, you should approach the conversation with a compassionate and understanding attitude. Be open-minded and ready to listen without interrupting or judging. Even if they don’t feel ready to talk at first, your willingness to listen will let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready to open up.

Express your support and concern in a way that shows you’re on their side. For example, you might say things like, “I’m here for you, no matter what,” “You are important to me, and I want to help you get through this,” or “I am so grateful that you are still here with us.” By taking these steps, you can help your loved one feel valued, heard, and cared for. Above all else, remember that your loved one needs your empathy and support, and avoid blaming or criticizing them for their actions. Instead, focus on being a compassionate listener and advocate for their well-being, as this can help them on the path to recovery and healing.

Active Listening

Active listening is essential in creating a safe and non-judgmental environment where your loved one feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Encourage them to talk about what led them to attempt suicide and how they are feeling now. You can ask open-ended questions like “How have you been feeling lately?” or “Can you tell me what happened that led you to feel this way?” By doing so, you can help the person open up about their emotions and feel heard and supported.

Active listening involves more than just hearing the person’s words. It’s about understanding their perspective and validating their feelings. Show that you’re fully present and engaged in the conversation by maintaining eye contact, nodding in agreement, and using reflective listening techniques to show that you understand their feelings.

Be patient and avoid rushing the conversation. The person may not be ready to open up right away, so give them the time and space they need to feel comfortable. Listen attentively and offer your support and encouragement throughout the conversation.

Safety Planning

If your loved one has attempted suicide, it’s essential to ensure their safety and well-being by discussing safety planning. A safety plan is a personalized plan that the person can use during times of crisis to stay safe and prevent further harm. It can include emergency contacts, mental health professionals, and coping strategies to help the person manage their emotions and thoughts. Having a safety plan in place can help the person feel more in control of their emotions and give them a sense of purpose during difficult times.

If they do not have a safety plan, encourage them to develop one with the help of a mental health professional. A mental health professional can provide guidance and support in creating an effective safety plan that meets the person’s unique needs. They can also provide additional resources and strategies to help the person manage their mental health.

It’s important to approach the topic of safety planning with sensitivity and understanding. Let your loved one know that you are asking about their safety because you care about them and want to help them. Remind them that having a safety plan in place is not a sign of weakness but rather a proactive step toward their well-being.

By encouraging the person to create a safety plan with the help of a mental health professional, you can provide them with the tools they need to manage their mental health and stay safe during times of crisis. Remember to be patient and supportive during this process and let the person know that you are there to support them every step of the way.

Encourage Professional Help

It’s important to encourage your loved one to seek professional help from a mental health professional if they have attempted suicide. Suggest the idea by gently recommending the benefits of professional support in managing their mental health. Offer to help them find a therapist or mental health professional if they need assistance, as this process can sometimes feel overwhelming and challenging. You can provide the person with a list of trusted professionals, resources, and organizations that can assist them in finding the right fit.

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary to ensure the person’s safety, especially if they are at risk of harming themselves or others. It’s important to address this possibility in a supportive and non-judgmental manner, highlighting that the main goal is to help them feel safe and supported. Contact your local crisis center or the suicide hotline (988) if you’re unsure whether your loved one requires hospitalization. To be on the safe side, you can always take them to an inpatient hospital for an evaluation. This way, medical professionals will be able to recommend the best course of action for your loved one.

A mental health professional can help the person develop coping strategies, identify triggers, and manage their mental health. They are trained to provide support and guidance to people who are struggling with mental health issues. By seeking professional help, the person can receive the necessary tools and resources to manage their mental health and prevent future crises.

Support Their Recovery

Support your loved one’s recovery process with patience and understanding. Recovery can be a difficult and long journey, but your encouragement and support can make a significant difference. Encourage your loved one to engage in healthy habits like exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep hygiene. These habits can improve their mental and physical well-being and help them cope with the aftermath of the attempt. Encourage them to engage in positive activities that they enjoy and bring them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Checking in with your loved one regularly is crucial to see how they are doing and offer encouragement and support. Let them know you are there for them, no matter what, and provide them with an open and safe space to share their feelings and thoughts.

Educate Yourself About Suicide and Mental Health

Educating yourself about suicide and mental health can provide you with invaluable insight and knowledge on supporting your loved one through this difficult time. Learning about suicide can help you recognize the warning signs and risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of attempting suicide. Knowing what to look for allows you to recognize when your loved one may be entering a crisis.

There are many resources available to help you learn more about suicide and mental health. You might start by researching online or seeking out books and articles on the topic. There are also organizations and support groups, like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, that offer a wealth of information and resources.

By learning more about suicide and mental health, you can better understand the complex emotions and thoughts that may be contributing to your loved one’s suicidal ideation. This can help you provide more effective and supportive care.

How to Talk to a Loved One After a Suicide Attempt

When someone close to you attempts suicide, knowing how to respond and what to say can be challenging. Here are some suggestions for what to say and what not to say.

Things to say:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I care about you and want to support you.”
  • “I’m so glad you’re still here.”
  • “You’re not alone. I’m here for you every step of the way.”
  • “It took a lot of strength to reach out for help. I’m proud of you for doing that.”
  • “You’re a valuable and loved member of our community. We’ll work together to help you get through this.”

Things not to say:

  • “Why did you do it?” or “What were you thinking?”
  • “You’re just being dramatic.”
  • “It could have been worse.”
  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “You’re selfish for trying to hurt yourself.”

It’s equally as important to take care of yourself during this process. Supporting a loved one who has attempted suicide can be emotionally draining and overwhelming. Make sure you take the time to check in with your own emotions and seek support if needed. It’s essential to maintain your own well-being so that you can continue to offer support to your loved one.

In summary, after a loved one attempts suicide, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure how to support them. By approaching the situation with empathy, active listening, and a willingness to offer support, you can help your loved one feel valued, heard, and cared for. Encouraging them to seek professional help, developing a safety plan, and supporting their recovery can also make a significant difference. Remember to take care of yourself during this process and seek professional help if needed. By working together and providing support, we can help our loved ones on their journey to healing and recovery.

Suicide and Mental Health Resources

The following resources offer a range of support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by suicide and mental health issues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or has attempted suicide, please seek professional help immediately. Resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988) and Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) are available 24/7 to provide support and assistance.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – a 24/7 hotline for individuals in crisis or their loved ones. They also provide resources and information on suicide prevention. Call 988 or visit their website.

Crisis Text Line – a free, 24/7 text service for individuals in crisis or their loved ones. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor. Visit their website for more information.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – a national organization dedicated to funding research, providing education and advocacy, and offering support to those affected by suicide. Their website includes resources for suicide prevention, coping with loss, and supporting loved ones who are struggling with their mental health.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – a grassroots organization that provides support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness. Their website offers a wealth of information on various mental health conditions, including suicide prevention.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – a federal agency that provides resources and services for individuals and families affected by mental illness and substance abuse. Their website offers information on suicide prevention, treatment options, and support services.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) – a national organization dedicated to preventing suicide through public awareness, education, and support for those affected by suicide. Their website includes resources for suicide prevention, education, and support.

The Trevor Project – a national organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. Their website includes resources and support for LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, including a 24/7 hotline and text and chat services.

Mental Health America – a national organization that provides advocacy, education, and support for individuals affected by mental illness. Their website includes information on various mental health conditions, including suicide prevention.

The Jed Foundation – a national organization dedicated to promoting emotional health and preventing suicide among college students. Their website offers resources and support for college students, including a crisis text line and tips and resources for parents and educators.