Surviving a suicide attempt
Unbearable feelings of pain and hopelessness led you to attempt suicide. But, you’ve survived, and now you’re probably wondering, “How do I pick up the pieces and go on living again?” It may seem as if there are many issues you need to address immediately—regarding your family, friends, and work or school life—but the most important thing at the moment is to focus on your own well-being and outlook.
You may feel grateful or relieved that your suicide attempt failed and now view the world through a more hopeful and optimistic lens, as if a great weight has been lifted from you. Or perhaps the sudden outpouring of support from those around you has made you realize how important you are to others.
Not everyone leaves behind those heavy feelings of despair, though. You may feel a deep sense of shame and ruminate on the idea that you’ve let your loved ones down. You could even feel embarrassed due to the stigma surrounding suicide and want to withdraw from those closest to you. In some cases, the feelings of depression or emptiness that prompted your suicide attempt could still be lingering or even growing worse.
Even if you feel okay right now, you may fear that the intolerable pain and suffering will suddenly return. That expectation alone is enough to keep you on edge.
No matter how you feel after a suicide attempt, it’s crucial that you take steps to fully heal, come to terms with what happened, and learn better ways to cope during challenging times. In doing so, you can find ways to move forward and embrace life again.
Immediately after an attempt
Being in a hospital environment might seem especially stressful right now, but it’s important to get a physical and mental assessment following a suicide attempt. If you have serious injuries, hospital staff can tend to your wounds or other health complications. Then, you’ll likely talk to a mental health worker. They may ask you questions about your mood, stressors, and relationships as they try to understand your experience. At the end of the assessment, you’ll likely be scheduled for a follow-up appointment.
Before you leave the hospital:
- Make sure you get advice and resources that you can use at home—such as contact information for support groups or counseling services.
- Address confidentiality concerns. If you don’t want medical staff to share details about the incident with other members of your family, for example, be sure to raise those concerns.
Confronting feelings of guilt and shame
In the aftermath of a suicide attempt, it’s not unusual to face intense feelings of guilt and shame. You might worry that loved ones have lost respect for you or that you’ve let them down. You may even believe that your relationships will never be the same again. Try to let go of these concerns, and certainly don’t allow them to push you into self-isolation.
Prioritize self-compassion. Part of this involves becoming more aware of your self-talk. You might catch yourself making assumptions like, “I’m a burden on those around me.” Aim to challenge those thoughts with more positive or neutral thoughts, like, “I’m still important to my loved ones.”
Start small. If you can’t seem to shake shame and guilt and open up to people close to you, start with a support group. Connecting with strangers who have had similar experiences can give you a comfortable outlet and teach you new coping skills.
Addressing your trauma
A suicide attempt is a traumatic experience. If you have difficulty processing what happened, it can manifest in symptoms like sleeplessness and physical tension. Following an attempt, some people even experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, such as ongoing flashbacks.
The following steps can help you cope with traumatic stress:
Try to avoid ruminating on the incident. Constantly recounting the details can sap your energy and make it hard for you to focus on other things. Come up with go-to distractions that you can use when you start to dwell on the experience, such as reading a favorite book or exercising.
Reestablish your normal routine. Try to eat, sleep, socialize, work, and relax according to your typical schedule. Get back in touch with aspects of life that you enjoy.
Practice mindfulness. Slowing down and being present in the current moment can help ease anxiety and reduce stress. Aim to accept your thoughts and feelings while withholding judgment.
Keep an eye out for signs of PTSD. This is when your traumatic stress symptoms don’t subside as time passes. Instead, your nervous system seems “stuck” in the traumatic moment, leaving your mind and body in a state of hypervigilance. PTSD can be treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and professional options.
If you’re still in crisis
If the suicidal thoughts haven’t subsided, or if they’ve worsened after your suicide attempt, please take these immediate steps:
Take a moment to distinguish between thoughts and actions. Although you might already be planning another suicide attempt, remind yourself that there’s no need to act immediately. You’re in pain, and it may feel as though the suffering will never subside. But pause, promise yourself that you’ll wait at least a day or a week before taking action, and that you’ll speak to someone.
Reach out. Immediately call someone you trust, such as a close friend or family member, a teacher, or counselor. Crisis helplines allow you to talk with anonymity to a trained person. Try to set aside any fears or embarrassment and fully open up. Let them know what you’re going through and what led you to this point.
Don’t turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with your emotions. You might think that these substances will numb your pain, but they can actually make you feel even worse.
Focus on making your environment safer. Remove potentially harmful items, such as guns or knives. If you have pills that you might overdose on, hand them off to someone else for safekeeping.
If you don’t know where to turn:
Talking to others about your attempt
You might find that it’s easy to connect with loved ones, but that’s not always the case. Maybe a close friend feels hurt that you didn’t come to them with your problems. Or perhaps your parents are angry at you due to their religious views on suicide. If you have kids, they might have a hard time understanding the situation. Here are some strategies that could help you communicate your experience.
Take your time. You’re still processing a complicated experience. It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up, but open up to others at your own pace.
Think about your message. If you’re feeling stressed about how to raise the topic, spend some time crafting a general message. What details do you want to share, and what do you want to omit?
- Consider giving loved ones an explanation of what led up to the event and how your mental health has progressed since then. They’ll likely have questions for you. If you’re comfortable, allow for an in-depth discussion.
- People who aren’t as close to you can simply hear an abridged message of what happened and how you’re currently doing. For example, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve been struggling with mental health and I attempted suicide. Right now, I’m working to feel better and regain my footing.”
Talking to children
You’ll want to give your children a simplified version of the events. It might be effective to describe depression as an illness or brain disease. Then, you can describe a suicide attempt as a consequence of the disease.
Don’t color the explanation with judgmental statements like, “I wanted to take an easy way out” or abstract statements like “I wanted to go ‘away.’” This could just lead to confusion down the road or misinform their understanding of suicide.
Give your child space to express how they feel and ask questions. Listen to what they say and answer their questions as honestly and accurately as you can. Reassure them that they’re not at fault.
Expect different reactions. Some people may respond in shock and not know what to say. Others may feel betrayed, blame themselves, or feel the need to be overly supportive. If people react negatively, give them space and lean on those who are more understanding.
Let people know what you need. If a loved one wants to be more supportive, give them some concrete steps they can take. You might simply want someone to listen without giving advice, or someone who will talk about more lighthearted subjects.
Talking about it at work
You might decide early on that you don’t need to explain the incident to people at work. It’s a path that allows you to separate your personal life from your work life.
However, if you’re close to coworkers, you might want to let them know. Or maybe you think you it’s best to explain your absence to supervisors or managers. An abridged explanation of the situation is likely enough.
By talking to your supervisor or manager, you might be able to get additional on-job support when needed, such as more flexible deadlines or a reduced workload as you recover. If you need accommodations, be clear on what changes would be most helpful.
Preventing future attempts tip 1: Seek help for mental health issues
Even if you feel better at the moment, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of future suicide attempts. It starts with knowing and confronting your own risk factors.
Many people who survive a suicide attempt don’t try again later. However, studies show that certain people are more at risk of re-attempting suicide, including people who:
- Feel hopeless.
- Have a diagnosable mental health problem.
- Have a family history of suicide.
- Abuse alcohol.
- Have a personality disorder, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder.
If you’re struggling with persistent mental health issues, finding treatment is crucial. Perhaps you feel like you can’t escape the depths of your depression or shed feelings of anxiety. Maybe you’re finding it hard to cope with the grief of losing a loved one. You might be stuck in a cycle of substance abuse or gambling addiction. If you have a disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you might feel like you’re fated to endure hardships alone.
Know that all these issues are manageable with the right help. A combination of self-help steps and professional treatment can change your life and put you on the right track.
Tip: 2 Recognize triggers to suicidal thoughts
You may notice that your suicidal thoughts seem to come in waves. At times you may feel in control. Other times, it feels as though you’re trapped in a downward spiral of negative self-talk and despair. It’s possible that certain mental states and external factors are prompting the shift in your thought patterns. Make a habit of identifying your triggers, so you can be better prepared to handle the thoughts that follow.
Some common triggers include:
- Personal illness or injury. Feeling as though you’ll never escape your current physical pain can lead to thoughts of suicide.
- Grief. The loss of a loved one or a valuable relationship can make you question if life is worth living without the other person.
- Stress. Situations like feeling overworked or mistreated at the job can trigger suicidal thoughts. In your personal life, conflicts with friends or family members can lead to chronic stress and suicide ideation.
- Loneliness. Lack of social support is a major risk factor for re-attempts at suicide. If you feel isolated or disconnected from other people, it can damage your sense of self-worth and leave you with feelings of emptiness and depression. Some studies show that being ostracized or intentionally excluded from a group can be especially painful and trigger suicidal thoughts.
Tip 3: Find reasons to live
Feeling as if you have no purpose or direction can make you question your worth. On the other hand, research indicates that finding meaning in life or even simply searching for meaning can reduce the risk of suicidal behaviors. Finding reasons to live might sound like a big undertaking, but it doesn’t need to be so complicated.
Share your story. Although it was a painful experience, others can learn from what you’ve been through. Consider writing about the lessons you’ve learned or speaking up about the importance of mental health services. Volunteer to work at crisis helplines, support groups, or other organizations.
Embrace your passions. If you’re an artist, hone your craft. If you enjoy a sport or other physical activity, make it a priority in your life again. You can also focus on personal growth and expand your interests by learning new skills. Either way, you’re giving your life meaning and putting yourself in a position to meet new people.
Focus on others. If you have children or a partner, acknowledge your importance in their lives. Spend more time offering them your support and love. This could involve cheering on your partner as they pursue their goals or teaching your children practical life skills.
Tip 4: Practice self-care
It’s not always easy to find motivation for self-care, especially right after a crisis. However, finding time to take care of your mind and body can reduce your stress and improve your overall well-being. You might notice your mood lift and self-esteem build as you incorporate the following steps in your daily routine:
Exercise regularly. Physical activity can reduce stress hormones and elevate your mood. Try to get in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can worsen mental health conditions like depression. To improve your sleep hygiene, take steps such as maintaining a consistent bedtime, developing a wind down routine, and making sure your bedroom is quiet and cool.
Adopt relaxation practices. Consider adding meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to your daily routine. These types of activities offer easy, natural ways to manage stress levels.
Eat healthy. Processed foods and sugary snacks can seem like a good way to quickly elevate your mood. However, they can also decrease your energy levels and cause physical health issues later. Make time to prioritize a more balanced diet with plenty of fresh, whole foods.
Tip 5: Prepare a suicide safety plan
When suicidal thoughts arise, it’s easy to feel overcome by feelings of helplessness. However, having a suicide safety plan in place can help you feel more prepared to handle distressing thoughts. A 2018 study found that safety planning intervention decreased the risk of suicidal behaviors in patients who were treated in emergency departments.
An effective safety plan could include:
- A list of potential triggers.
- People you can reach out to, including family or friends.
- Contact info for professional services, such as crisis hotlines and hospitals.
- Go-to strategies that calm you when you’re alone, such as going for a walk or breathing exercises.
- A list of reasons for living.
Keep your safety plan somewhere that’s convenient for you to access whenever suicidal thoughts arise. For example, you can keep it in the Notes app of your smartphone.
How to help someone after a suicide attempt
Hearing about a loved one’s suicide attempt can evoke a mix of intense or even surprising emotions. You may feel frightened, distraught, shocked, or angry. It’s also common to want to solve all of your loved problems or to try to understand why they did what they did. However, it’s important to realize that there are rarely any easy answers. But there are helpful ways you can offer your love and support.
Don’t blame yourself. This can be difficult, especially if you’re their parent, spouse, or child. You might feel as if you contributed to their despair or didn’t provide enough support. Know that the situation isn’t your fault.
Don’t argue with them or berate them. Avoid saying things like, “That was a selfish thing you did” or “Why would you hurt your family like that?” Accept that they were in so much pain that taking their own life seemed like the only escape. To work through your own strong emotions, try journaling or confiding in someone else.
Don’t obsess over what drove them to attempt suicide. In some cases, a combination of factors may have weighed on their mental health and put them in unbearable pain. They may not even have a complete understanding of the causes. Know that it’s not your job to diagnose and “fix” the problem.
Help them develop and maintain healthy habits.This could involve encouraging them to see a mental health professional to address issues like addiction, PTSD, or depression. Or you might offer to join them in taking self-help steps like exercising, meditating, making a safety plan, or expanding their social support network. Remember, you can’t force your loved one to take these steps. You can only make suggestions.
Continue to reach out to them, even if you think they’re doing better. Invite them on outings rather than waiting for them to extend invitations. Don’t shy away from heart-to-heart conversations. Recognize that everyone needs support, and your continued presence can have a dramatic effect on your loved one’s sense of well-being.
Last updated or reviewed on February 23, 2023