To promote public commitment and action to prevent suicide in the lead-up to World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September), it is important to share advice on how to support a loved one after a suicide attempt, writes Abdurahmaan Kenny, Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics.
Knowing how to deal with and support someone who has attempted to take their own life is crucial for their recovery.
Your loved one may be depressed or suffer from another mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Therefore, it is essential for them to see a trained healthcare professional, who will be able to make a proper diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment, which often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Recovery (with the right help) is possible.
Rising Suicide Rates
Many of us know someone who has attempted or committed suicide. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), there are 23 known cases of suicide a day in SA, and for every person that commits suicide, 10 have attempted it.
When a loved one is affected, it can be traumatic as you need to support them, and deal with your own feelings about the suicide attempt – the anger, fear, shame, and guilt. Saying and doing the right thing can be difficult.
Supporting a loved one
What to say (conversation prompts):
- I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so awful. I’m so glad you’re still here.
- I’m here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to.
- I want to help you. Tell me what I can do to support you.
Various organizations, including Suicide Line (Australia) and Mental Health Foundation (NZ), advise the following ways of support:
- As much as possible, remove the means of suicide, including drugs and alcohol.
- Create a “safe space” for the person to talk to. Be available and let the person know you will listen. Accept them for who they are and let them know you care.
- Try to understand the feelings and perspectives of the person before exploring solutions together.
- Explore and develop realistic plans and solutions to deal with their emotional pain/ mental illness. For them to realize that suicide is not a solution, they will need to see real changes in their life. This will require making small steps in the beginning to change their situation.
- Get your loved one the professional support they need. You can offer to go with them or help them make appointments.
- Enlist the help of other family and friends to assist you in supporting the person.
- Together with that person, consider writing a safety plan that details the steps they need to take should they feel suicidal. This will make both of you feel more prepared and in control of the possibility of future suicidal thoughts.
- Support them to do the things they enjoy, keep physically active, and connect with others.
- Help them restore balance in their life, e.g., by reducing alcohol intake, doing some exercise, or getting enough sleep.
It is natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even angry or resentful when a loved one attempts suicide. It’s important to be aware of your own feelings so that you refrain from reacting in ways that could cause your loved one to respond angrily or withdraw.
Here is a list of what not to say according to Suicide Line:
- Panicking: “This can’t be happening. I don’t know what to do – what do we do?”
- Name-calling: “You’re a real psycho.”
- Criticizing: “That was such a stupid thing to do.”
- Preaching or lecturing: “You know you shouldn’t have done that; you should’ve asked for help.”
- Ignoring: “If I just pretend this didn’t happen, it’ll go away.”
- Abandoning the person: “I can’t take this; I have to leave.”
- Punishing the person: “I’m not talking to them until they straighten themselves out.”
- Dramatizing: “This is the worst possible thing you could have done!”
- Simplifying things or using a ‘quick-fix’ approach: “You just need some medication, and then you’ll feel yourself again.”
- Showing anger: “I can’t believe you’d try that!”
- Making the person feel guilty or selfish: “How did you think this would make me feel?” or “How could you do this to me?”
Using words such as “unsuccessful” or “failed” should be avoided. Instead, words, such as “suicide attempt” or “attempted to take their own life” should be used.
Also avoid asking about how they harmed themselves (unless it’s to keep them safe), which can be distressing and triggering.
Telling other people about the suicide attempt
There is still a lot of stigma around suicide, and you may fear the judgement and criticism of others. Who you choose to tell and how much you want to share, is up to you. It might be helpful to prepare something to say when asked, such as, ‘Yes, it’s a difficult time for us, but we’re getting him/her/them the support he/she/they need’.
As challenging as recovering from a suicide attempt can be, with time and support for your loved one and yourself, it can be overcome.
For our American readers, if you or anyone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text 741741, or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Our UK readers can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or chat online at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our South African readers can contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counselors who are on call from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Who is Abdurahmaan Kenny?
Abdurahmaan Kenny is the Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics. He has a demonstrated history of working in the pharmaceutical industry in various therapeutic areas such as CVS, CNS, FHC, PAIN, and OTC.
Kenny has successfully launched multiple brands and is skilled in brand building, analytical skills, public speaking, event management, market research, and teamwork.
He is a strong product management professional with a PG.Dip focused in Marketing/Marketing Management and B.Sc. majoring in chemistry and human physiology from the University of Cape Town.