It is hard to imagine any nightmare scenario more terrifying than the suicide of a loved one. For when a loved
one dies through suicide, a part of you (a loving part) dies with them. A romantic poet may call this the heart, or the soul.
But the truth remains that you will never return to being the same person you were before the suicide of your loved one
devastated your world.
The emotional consequence of losing a loved one through suicide is a frightening roller-coaster of
shock, grief, disbelief, confusion, anger, self-reproach and pain which can easily overwhelm you and take over
your life: And (if you are not careful) can become you.
Grief and loss fill your days and nights, and you too can find yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Words such as 'healing' and 'closure' can lose their meaning and seem inappropriate. Whilst, 'recovery' seems a total
impossibility or at best, signify the eventual rebuilding of your life around your loss.
Worst of all is the nagging feeling of guilt; feelings that somehow it is you who are to blame. You have caused
this terrible thing to happen. It is all your fault.
Your mind fills with questions involving "If only" and "If I hadn't" and, (the most terrible and intrusive thought
of all) a false recognition that he, or she, preferred to die rather than continue to live with me. Strangely
enough, Such feelings are normal - but these feelings are also false. We are not gods, we are human. We cannot read minds,
nor control another person's actions. The decision to die so cruelly was not yours and you were powerless to prevent
it. It is not your fault.
The bottom line is best summed up by an excellent American site called 1000 Deaths. It rightly points out that: "The person who completes suicide dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive
those terrible moments and understand...Why?"
Those who have been left behind by the suicidal act of a loved one are called Suicide Survivors and each year their number
grows by the million. These people are the true victims of suicide. Suffering for the successful suicide is over - but for
his, or her, loved ones - the suffering has just begun.
A FAILED ATTEMPT
But, what happens when you discover that a loved one has made a serious suicide attempt, failed (or was saved) and survived.
Such news (striking like a bolt out of the blue) is itself shattering and life-changing. Not to put too fine a point upon
it, it is a major trauma. What do you do next?
The news that a person you love has tried to kill themself is a shock, and can send you into shock; especially,
if there was no warning or indication that such a terrible thing was about to happen. You will probably experience all of
the pain, anxiety, confusion, and disbelief as a suicide survivor, but with one major difference. Your loved one is still
alive and (even though your lives will continue to be entwined): things between you can never be the same again.
But for the moment let's concentrate on you. You've received traumatic news and could be in shock... In the aftermath
of a trauma, people often experience a feeling of being numb, disorientated and dazed. Talking about what has happened may
well be the last thing you want to do. However, expressing your feelings, by talking, may be the best way of coming to terms
with what has happened. You really ought to speak with someone who will be non-judgemental and listen to what you are going
through, and how you are feeling. Please don't bottle your feelings up your emotional / psychiatric health could be at stake.
Given that suicide can devastate any family, anywhere and at anytime. We would all be wise
to learn more about it, how to recognise it and what we can do about it.
If a loved one, or someone you know, starts talking about suicide or death, it could be that they are tentatively
'reaching out' from their isolation and despair. Do not ignore this warning. If anyone threatens suicide take them seriously.
A number of suicides occur when people dismiss these warnings as 'melodrama'. This can further isolate a person and amplify
feelings of worthlessness. This has prompted some people to overdose in the belief that they would be discovered and
saved - they weren't
If verbal warnings go unheeded, death can become a morbid fascination, which can manifest itself in
all forms of everyday expression; speaking, writing, drawing etc. But when comments such as "I wish I were dead" are replaced
with comments such as "I won't be here much longer" This is a clear warning that the person may already have an 'exit
In extreme crisis situations when there is an high risk of suicide, stay with the person, or get other
people to stay with them. Strongly dissuade them for drinking alcohol or taking drugs. If the person makes any attempt at
suicide call the emergency services immediately. Even if they beg, threaten or order you not to do so!
Opening a dialogue
Initially it is crucial that you establish a dialogue with this person. Be supportive. Speak openly, calmly and
honestly. Encourage and allow them to confide in you. Ask directly if they are considering suicide. It can be a relief to
people to realise that they can talk about it and another human being is there for them. Reassure them that they are not crazy.Listen
carefully, do not be afraid. Allow an open expression of feelings.
These thoughts and feelings can be quite frightening and shameful to the person at risk. Accept these feelings
without trivialising them. By accepting these feelings, you affirm them - this in turn affirms the person whose thoughts
and feelings they are.
It is vital to be non-judgemental. The person needs to unload something which is of such terrible importance
that it is compelling that person to self-destruct. Your response to someone sharing their innermost secrets with you is of
the highest importance. Do not be shocked but above all please do not judge. These initial chats can be a roller coaster of
emotion. But they do serve to diffuse a suicidal crisis, after which the real issues can be addressed.
Other non-verbal warning signs
A classic (non-verbal) suicide warning sign involves act of closure. These involve people suddenly
taking out life insurance. Burning old documentation and photographs. Writing a will or otherwise commencing to put their
affairs into order. Giving away possessions which they cherish, and visiting or calling people they care about - effectively
to say goodbye.
Behavioural changes may range from individuals withdrawing from family and friends (another act of closure). An
increasing difficulty in communicating with others. Through to reckless thrill seeking - as if actually challenging death
itself. Totally cutting off friends and family (closure again) Increased alcohol and drug abuse. One American study indicates
that the suicide rates for people with alcohol dependence is 50 times greater.
Try to discourage anyone you think may be suicidal from drowning their sorrows. It only serves to make matters
worse. One in three adolescent suicides happen when the person is drunk.
Other behavioural changes may include change of lifestyle and can range from one extreme to another. Sleep
disruption. Poor diet. Irregular meals etc. Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance and loss of interest in things which
were previously important - including sex.
The sudden appearance of cheerfulness and calmness after a period of depression can also be a warning
sign. Individuals can appear calm and at ease. This could indicate that that person is experiencing a sense of relief knowing
that the end is now in sight - their exit plan is in place and it could only be a question of time.
The most important thing that anyone of us can do if we suspect that someone may be contemplating suicide
is to befriend them. If the person is a loved one show them unconditional love and give them lots of cuddles. Show them that
you care and that they are important to you.
Please bear in mind that suicidal people are still people. The feelings which they are experiencing
leave them afraid that trying to get help may bring them more pain. Being told that they are foolish, stupid, sinful or manipulative;
rejection; punishment; suspension from work or school; written records of their condition. The very real danger of involuntary
commitment and general stigmatc, all create the understandable desire to cut themselves off - to internally, run away.
Being afraid of even more pain the person going through the crisis, may swear you to secrecy,
and plead with you not to tell anyone. This is a good (healthy) sign. It shows that the will to survive is active and needs
to be cultivated.
For your part it is strongly recommended that you find a trustworthy person with whom you
can share the responsibility of such an emotional burden.
Coping with someone going through an emotional crisis is scary and worrying enough. Trying
to make sense of a loved one going through acute emotional distress is draining and bewildering.
Do not panic and do not worry too much about the fine details of what is being said... It
is better, initially, simply to be there and accept what's being said. By accepting what's being said - you accept the person
saying it. This in itself is most beneficial.
Try to find out if the person has a plan. Is it lethal? Do they have the means? If so, and it is safe
to do so, remove the means and convince the person to seek help.
The awareness that a loved one has attempted suicide will be an enormous shock to your system. Such news is life-changing and can easily leave a person traumatised. This being so, the first priority has to be you and what you are going through. This is not being selfish, it is being
practical. You have been faced with a truly frightening situation and will need all of your resources to cope.
The first thing to understand is that: You are
also a victim of this attempted suicide.
Being a victim of the attempted suicide of a loved one will be both distressing and confusing. You will probably experience
a wide range of feelings from anger, fear, disbelief, guilt, resentment, powerlessness etc Feelings of hate are not uncommon
nor is a sense of personal betrayal and abandonment. Such feelings are normal in this situation.
One dangerous interpretation of what has happened is to leap to the conclusion that (by his or her action) your loved
one is saying “Death is better than the pain you’re causing me” This is highly unlikely; but understandable at this
moment. It is important to accept that such feelings,
thoughts, doubts and fears really are completely natural. Avoid
the trap of blaming and punishing yourself – whatever the circumstance – your loved one is the one who chose to
take his, or her life, not you!
It is important that you come to terms with these feelings before you are able to assist your loved one to come to
terms with what they are going through. This being so, it would be wise to contact your family doctor with a view to finding
out what ‘local’ counselling options are open to you. Another good option is telephone help-lines, online support
groups etc. Hopefully, the DASI website ‘SIGNPOST’ could assist you to locate sources of help. It is important to realise that you are not alone,
and don’t need to face this situation alone. A peer group would be of great support in coming to terms with what you
are going through.
Having said that, one of the first challenges that you will probably need to face and overcome is “denial”
which is closely linked to ‘shock’.
It is very important that you do not deny what has happened. Pretending
that nothing as happened will not make the situation go away. In fact, this approach could make matters worse. It could quite
easily lead your loved one to believe that you are not interested in what happens to them - or you simply don’t care
about what happens to them. This should be avoided at all costs.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of attempted suicides are the ultimate expression of extreme distress and not
just "bids for attention" Having said that, in the immediate aftermath of their suicidal act,
they will be experiencing a range of feelings: Disorientation. Fear. Confusion. Guilt. Shame. Shock and disbelief.
Realization that what they have done to you can fill them with guilt and shame. Which will make a heart-to-heart conversation
virtually impossible. However, this situation can not be avoided.Talking about what has happened and why, will probably be
the last thing they want to do. So you need to resist the temptation to interrogate or lecture them. Even though it would
be a perfectly natural reaction to give them a piece of your mind.
Anger will also be an overwhelming reaction. In all probability you will feel like stranggling him or her for putting
you through this terrible thing. Again this is a natural reaction and not something to worry about, but you should inform
your loved one of this, and all the other feelings they are putting you through.
As previously stated, because of feelings of gulit and shame, they may feel unable to open their heart to you at the
moment - but this is ok. Everyone needs to proceed at their own pace. When the time is right they will talk. However, it may
well be that instead of talking with you they may turn to friends, relatives or colleagues.
Many failed suicides have said that what they found most useful to begin with, was practicle advice, information and
support with day-to-day tasks. Some of the best support you can possibly give to a loved one who has attempted suicide is
to listen to them. Here are some basic suggestions to help you to become a good listener.
- Try not to be shocked, alarmed, offended or frightened by what they are saying. It could be that there are years of frustration
and anger which they need to get off their chest.
- Remember they will be talking openly about their (secret) personal problems, emotional distress, pain etc; and this
will probably make you feel very uncomfortable.
- Try to avoid the temptation to provide solutions. There is a time to speak and a time to listen - this is the time to
- Try to avoid minimalising what is being confided in you. Offering simple advice for serious problems
- Offer to help them find help information and support.Again DASI Signpost may be able to assist with this.
- Reassure them that you are there for them and that you will continue to be there for them.
- Remember. What may seem a straightforward problem to you may seem extrememly serious to them.
- Do not judge what you are hearing. It is vital that you remain non-judgemental
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to talk. An open-ended question doesn't invite a yes / no reply. For example:
'So how are you feeling?' as opposed to 'do you feel ok?'
- Suggest that on this occasion he or she can talk and you will listen. But next time you will talk and they must listen.
CLICK HERE: HOW TO BE A GOOD LISTENER
HOW TO HELP A LOVED ONE RECOVER FROM TRAUMA
- Keep communicating; both in words and (possibly more important) in deeds.
- Listen very carefully and try to understand how this is affecting the speaker.
- Try to understand the experience.
- Try to understand how this can change in time.
- Share in reviewing the past and the future – if invited to do so.
- Share in the making of new plans – if the speaker wishes.
- Assist in changing life values and priorities – if the speaker wishes.
- Respect privacy and the speakers need to spend reflective time alone.
- Do not allow your loved one to become isolated.
- Be patient. The effects of trauma could take a long time to unfold.
- Be patient. The effects of trauma could take a long time to come to terms with.
- It will take time to re-establish a comfortable lifestyle and relationship.
- Discourage excess use/abuse of alcohol and drugs.
- Set aside leisure time together.
- Relax together.
- Encourage the speaker to get plenty of rest, sleep and time to reflect.
- Make sure that you get plenty of rest.
- Ensure that you both eat properly.
- Encourage mild exercise together. Walking etc.
- Assist with daily tasks.
- Share responsibilities.
- Remember that others (family etc) may also require your support.
- Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it.
- Don’t hesitate to seek help for other members of your family if they need
Do not forget that recovery will take time,
but most people recover well with the continuing support of a loved one. Especially a loved one who cares and can show
it through word and deed.
show that you care.
Five-point suicide prevention plan
1. Our loved ones (family and friends) provide each one of
us with our social support network. This network empowers us emotionally. Without it we become isolated and can experience
empty feelings of abandonment. This in turn can cause feelings of worthlessness.
a person is being overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts and feelings he or she will probably experience the feeling of being
isolated and all alone. The need to feel loved and supported may have been negated by the belief that he or she feels themselves
to be unlovable and unsupportable This being so, he or she will need lots of reassurance from his or her loved ones.
This being so, it is important that these loved ones understand the emotional turmoil of the suicidal person. He or
she will probably need lots of reassurance that they really are loved and wanted and that people really are there for them.
They need to feel that support is there for them – unconditionally. This will help the sufferer to re-experience feelings
of loving warmth, feelings that he or she felt had gone forever.
One highly recommended method of re-establishing links
which can re-empower the sufferer, is for the sufferer’s family and friends to organize ‘bonding’ activities.
These activities can take many forms. Dining out especially in restaurants with a warm ambience. Spending quality time together.
Taking short breaks and holidays together. Taking in shows, going to the cinema,
enjoying countryside walks etc.
Sharing good experiences together is of high priority. However, try to discourage alcohol or drug abuse.
2. Assisting a loved one through a
suicidal crisis is only the first step in helping them to recover. Helping them to survive is not the same as resolving the
underlying causes which resulted in the suicidal crisis in the first place.
These underlying causes need to be resolved otherwise the suicidal crisis could return
– but this time with tragic consequences. It could be that the person is suffering from a treatable mental disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, substance
abuse, borderline personality disorder etc. Indeed, the most common cause of suicide today is undiagnosed depression, and
that is treatable.
If indeed the underlying problem is treatable then you can be of great help to your loved one by simply assisting
them to find and establish contact with specialist help.
the absence of psychological illnesses such as depression, it may be necessary to help the sufferer find a solution. We know
that suicidal people do not necessarily want to die. They only want the pain to end. They do not need to die but they do need
to escape from the insufferable situation they are trapped in.
Help him or her to see that killing him or herself is not the solution. Instead, assist them to examine various options
in coping with the problem. and assess the consequences of each action that he takes.
a loved one goes through a suicidal crisis, they have experienced a truly frightening experience. No matter how hard we try,
or how hard we want to understand, we will never be able to share the experience with them. However, others can. There are
support groups. Telephone support lines and a wide range of online services where one is able to find peer support. Such support
is invaluable and is a good source of encouragement and the all-important ‘coping strategies’.
5. Being trapped in a suicidal crisis is being trapped in a dark lonely place where no
light enters. Recovery from a suicidal crisis slowly allows the light back into that world. But recovery also shows a person
that he or she has actually forgotten how to live. This rediscovery phase can
be quite beautiful, stressful and even painful. But it is a most understandable and natural process for individuals who have
forgotten the joy of how to live. Love and be loved. In short, rediscovery helps people to live again.