There have always been “get well soon” cards to send friends who are hurt or sick and need some good wishes. However, there isn’t a go-to Hallmark response for what to say to someone after they’ve attempted suicide.
We can find ourselves stumbling on our own words and being at a loss of what to say. In a lot of cases, most people don’t say anything. This is not the appropriate way to respond to a suicide attempt though. While your loved one is in a sensitive place, there are ways you can show your support and help them return to a healthier normal.
1. “I’m sorry.”
Your friend is sick. Wanting to harm yourself in any way is a byproduct of mental illness. Just because you can’t see the illness like you can with the flu or pain like a broken bone doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s just in their brain.
This is a time of loss and it demands respect. After a suicide attempt, a person tends to lose a lot; be it connections or shedding their skin from old ways that they don’t want to relapse into. It’s important at this time to recognize their pain. Tell them you’re sorry that they were in that place and genuinely mean it.
If you have felt this way in the past, share your experience without overwhelming them or taking away the spotlight. Share with your loved one that you wish they weren’t in pain and didn’t have to feel that intense self-loathing that led them to this action.
2. “You are important to me.”
This is best to do casually. You don’t want to make a big scene and overwhelm your loved one when they’re already in a vulnerable and sensitive place. Bring up a memory of significance, a moment in time where you absolutely adored them. How magical they seemed at that moment, how much they meant to you then. Tell them little details you remember and be as detailed as your memory allows. Remind them that it is moments like this that have a great impact on your life and that you would be sad if you couldn’t have them anymore.
Try not to say things like “if you were gone/dead/not alive.” Although they may be saying they want to get better, they may still have lingering suicidal ideation. People don’t attempt suicide and right after finding the gratitude, they need to stay alive forever, although it may come in waves. People need time to heal their minds from that dark place, time to process and find what will keep them going. It’s unfair to put pressure on them to “stay alive” however it can be appropriate to say you would miss hanging out if you couldn’t anymore.
It is more than okay to remind them of how special they are; just don’t put pressure on them to have to stay alive, for your sake. They should be working to keep living for themselves. Guilt can be unbearable for suicide attempt survivors and lead to a relapse in thinking.
3. “How can I help?”
If you know them well enough, ask if they’re comfortable sharing their safety plan with you. It can be really alarming and dangerous to call law enforcement on a suicidal person. They may prefer that if you’re with them in crisis to call their therapist or health care provider to get them to help in a much less volatile situation. They may also have family members or housemates that they would prefer you to contact if you are concerned and need to talk to someone without alarming your loved one.
If they need a ride to therapy and it’s a time you’re free, ask if they’d like a ride with you once in a while, maybe stopping for lunch after. If they need to start journaling ask if you can hold each other accountable and journal at the same time.
Don’t just show your support in the first few weeks. If you are close to them ask how you can be an active participant in their recovery, telling them you want to help in any way they may need you (as long as your energy allows).
4. “Let’s get together!”
Start planning a vacation away together, even for a weekend! Plan day trips, especially those that support things they are interested in. Make a monthly coffee date or a weekly game night. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t make any promises you can’t keep. It’s important that any ideas you have for the future with your loved ones are things you can commit to and hold up to. It can become disheartening for a suicidal person when people cancel plans; it can retrigger feelings of being worthless and unloved.
Ask them things you can do together for future hangs. Get creative, make a little investment in something they can look forward to. Give them something they can hang on to and gently remind them of the wonderful future, directly focused on an event you can do together. This is a way to motivate your loved one to keep looking forward without overwhelming them with ideas of forever.
It can be nerve-wracking to talk to someone who has been suicidal. We don’t want to cause more damage or say the wrong thing. However, by making plans for a better future, being sincere, reminding them of their worth and wonders, and assisting them in the future can reassure your loved one that everything will be okay in time.
It’s important to treat them as the person you have always loved and will always love. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room; face it and ask where to go from here.
If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text “HELLO” to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.
Originally published on YourTango