Many people suffer their grief and heartache in silence. They may be experiencing the profound pain of loss in ways that are unimaginable to others. Knowing the right things to say may seem complicated and frightening, causing you to either avoid talking about their suicide attempt altogether or end up saying the wrong thing, driving a deeper wedge between you and your loved one.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Crafting Your Message to a Loved One Who Attempted Suicide
- Example Messages to a Friend Who Attempted Suicide
- Example Messages to a Parent or Grandparent Who Attempted Suicide
- Example Messages to a Child or Teen Who Attempted Suicide
- Example Messages to a Sibling Who Attempted Suicide
Survivors of suicide attempts have to deal with knowing they did what they thought they needed to do at the time. Now they must face the questions and often unwanted attention from well-meaning friends and family. There’s an extensive lack of general understanding about suicide, grief, and trauma and why people choose death over life.
The following are examples of what to say to your loved one after they’ve attempted suicide.
Tips for Crafting Your Message to a Loved One Who Attempted Suicide
Choosing the right words to say when crafting an “I’m here for you” message to your loved one after a suicide attempt can feel stressful. You may face the anxiety of not knowing what to say, saying the wrong thing, or thinking that whatever you say could lead them to try again. Here are some tips to consider.
Things to avoid saying
- “Why would you do such a thing?”
- “I’m so happy it didn’t work.”
- “You have so much to live for.”
- “How could you do this to me?”
- “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
- “It wasn’t your time.”
What to say instead
- “I know that what you’re dealing with must be beyond words. But I want to try to understand so that maybe we can take this on together.”
- “Let me know if you’re struggling with anything I can help you with.”
- “You don’t have to explain. I just want to sit here with you.”
- “This isn’t about me. But I want to make sure that you know how important it is to me to have you in my life.”
- “I know it feels like these feelings will last forever, but tomorrow we can start fresh.”
- “You’re the one in control of your life, and no one can make your decisions for you.”
Example Messages to a Friend Who Attempted Suicide
Friendships are unique relationships between individuals who choose to love each other. Your bond is different from any of your relatives, despite how close you might be to them.
There should never be any reason you can’t confide in a friend about what’s going on in your life, as friends love and support one another through the good times and the bad. Here are some ways to cut through the formalities of discussing suicide when you’re talking with a friend.
1. “I love you, and I’m here to support you. Let’s talk about it. ”
Many times, suicide attempt survivors are left feeling a sense of profound shame when things don’t work out the way they expected them to.
Taking the direct approach with your friend might give them just the push they need to open up and express what they’re feeling. Focus on what they’re going through that made suicide a viable option for them, and avoid language that could case further shame.
2. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me. Know that I’m here for you through thick and thin.”
Choosing to end one's life is a significant decision that you shouldn't brush under the rug just because it’s uncomfortable to talk about. When you don't ask for explanations, you're saying you don't need them to explain right away. Your friend should feel comfortable enough to tell you what was going through their mind when they attempted to end their life, whenever they’re ready to do so.
3. “I love you and I’m here for you, whatever it is you’re going through.”
Suicide is not always about the person wanting to die. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to continue living with the same pain, fear, and anxiety they’ve been dealing with for quite some time.
Without any other end in sight, death seems like the only way out for them. Many suicide attempt survivors don’t want to die. They want to live but in ways that are different than they’re dealing with at the moment. You can let your friend know that you’re in this together and that they can lean on you when they need strength.
Example Messages to a Parent or Grandparent Who Attempted Suicide
Older adults have often seen their children and grandchildren grow up and move on. They may have suffered through the loss of a spouse, close family members, and beloved friends. They may be ready to end their lives here on Earth in exchange for whatever comes next. When they attempt suicide, it’s usually a clear indication that they’re prepared to go.
However, it may be helpful to remind an older adult that they’re still needed and wanted here on Earth and that they still have many beautiful things to experience. Here are some things you can say.
4. “I’m thinking of you. Please call me to let me know how you’re feeling.”
This short and simple statement can be used as an icebreaker after a suicide attempt by a parent or grandparent. Because suicide is still a major taboo, especially among the older generations, this is a topic of conversation your loved one probably doesn't want to have with you. Asking them how they’re feeling is a sign of acknowledgement and respect for their autonomy and right to make whatever choices are best for them.
5. “What can I help you with to make you feel better?”
This question is an invitation to start a dialogue with your loved one after they've attempted suicide. In reality, there may be nothing you can do to make your parent or grandparent feel better. They may instead want you to go away and leave them be. Older adults need their space and privacy. However, there are older adults that may think suicide is their only option because they feel lonely or like they're a burden to their families.
6. “Would you be open to talking to someone about this?”
For older generations, seeking mental health care might not even occur to them as a solution. Or they may feel shame at the thought of seeing a “shrink.” You can help your older loved one understand that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that you’ll help them through the process (confidentially) if they’re open to it. You can even provide them with an easy hotline phone number, like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Example Messages to a Child or Teen Who Attempted Suicide
Getting through to children or teens after a suicide attempt may prove challenging. Many children will suffer the added stress of thinking they’ve let their parents down or the guilt of wanting to leave them. Be careful when talking about suicide with children and refrain from laying blame or making them feel guilty. Here are some things you might choose to say in a message to a child or teen.
7. “Let’s talk about why you decided suicide was your best option whenever you’re ready.”
Leaving a note similar to this one where your child will find and read it opens up the invitation for them to come to you in their own time and space. Try not to force your child to tell you why they chose to end their life. Approach the conversation from the standpoint of wanting to help resolve an issue for them.
8. “Whatever you’re dealing with, I want to help you.”
Give your child time for reflection so that they can process their suicide attempt and the reasons that led up to that point. Offer your child or teen a safe space where they can come to you and talk to you about whatever it is that they’re dealing with at home or school.
9. “If I could make things better for you, what would I start with?”
Children need to know that you support them and help them even when they don’t see any other way out of their situation. This type of message gives your child control over what areas of their lives they want you to step in to help.
10. “I’m not angry. I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can.”
Letting a child know that they’re not in trouble and that you’re not angry with them can make a huge difference. Let them know that you respect their autonomy as a human being, but that you’re also there to face any battles they're facing along with them.
Example Messages to a Sibling Who Attempted Suicide
Relationships with siblings can be complicated. Some siblings are thick as thieves and confide about everything with one another, while others seem to be complete opposites and always at odds. Whatever the relationship you have with yours, take this opportunity to talk about their decision and the reasons behind it.
11. “Even though my heart would break without you, I know this isn’t about me. Do you feel like talking?”
It can be helpful to acknowledge the fact that whatever your sibling is going is not about you. All too often, we try and figure out what we could've done wrong or where we failed our loved ones who've attempted suicide. What many people often overlook is that their sibling’s suicide attempt had nothing to do with them. You can say something like this to make sure your sibling knows that you’re not making it about yourself.
12. “I’m so sorry you felt like that was your only way out. Will you tell me what was going through your thoughts at the time, if you feel comfortable with it?”
Don't be afraid to directly address your sibling's attempted suicide. Although it may be challenging to have, talking about it doesn't make the person more or less suicidal.
Having open and honest conversations can help your sibling process their feelings and emotions to better understand why they went through with the suicide attempt. Focus your attention on what they're saying without trying to read more into it or adding your thoughts and opinions.
13. “How can I be there for you when you start feeling this way again?”
Knowing when and this will happen again is nearly impossible to predict. But often, just calling someone and saying, “I’m thinking about suicide,” can be enough to take the power out of suicidal ideation. Let your sibling know that you’re available for them any time and anywhere. Discuss what they want you to do when they do call you, and let them know that you won’t panic or get angry if they tell you they’re thinking about suicide.
Try to avoid placing limitations on when they can call you. For example, if you’re not allowed personal phone calls while at work, talk to your immediate supervisor to let them in on what you’re dealing with without telling your sibling that you can’t take their call when you’re working.
When a Loved One Attempts Suicide
Having to face friends and loved ones after a suicide attempt is psychologically and emotionally challenging for the survivor. You can help ease some of their anxiety by carefully choosing what you say and do when you spend time together.
But keep in mind that a loved one’s suicide attempt may also be a source of trauma for you. Take the time to process your own emotions and thoughts about the event, and to practice self-care. Before you can help your loved one, you have to help yourself.